Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A summit named Jerusalem

No major resolutions were made and no new messages sent at the Arab Summit meeting in Saudi Arabia this week, reports Dina Ezzat


A summit named Jerusalem
A summit named Jerusalem

It was a peaceful and non-eventful summit that Arab leaders held in the Saudi city of Al-Zahran on Sunday.

The top Arab meeting convened against a backdrop of high regional tensions: the escalation in Syria and Gaza, the expanding influence of Iran and Turkey in several Arab countries, and the inter-Arab disputes. However, though the final communiqué of the summit acknowledged these issues as well as other matters related to the war on terror, economic and social cooperation, and cooperation with other regional groupings, it did not issue any new thoughts on them.

Announced on Sunday evening at the end of the one-day meeting, the final communiqué contained few if any new messages. The condemnation of the Iranian and Turkish interventions in Syria was present, as were the resolutions adopted by the summit, but with the exception of implicit support for possible new US sanctions on Iran there was no concrete plan of action for the Arab countries on how to end the interventions.

According to one Arab diplomat who has been engaged at consecutive Arab summits, there is less agreement among the Arab countries today about the level of threat Iran is posing and on ways to deal with this than ever before. This was certainly the case among Iran’s Arab neighbours in the Gulf, he said.

“This is not just about the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but even between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, despite the joint Saudi-Emirati position against Qatar,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Arab Summit and the statements of the delegates at the opening session also saw an expression of a commitment to reach “peaceful settlements” to the conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Syria, with endorsements of the relevant international efforts.

However, according to the assessment of members of the UN missions trying to find negotiated settlements to these conflicts, while the Arab delegates spoke of peaceful agreements the Arab capitals are firmly taking sides in the conflicts in order to carve out zones of influence. This, the international diplomats argued, was making the options for peaceful settlements very difficult.

Libya, which received the least attention at the Arab Summit, is one case where international diplomats have been citing examples of conflicting Arab influence. And while the delegates adopted a resolution “condemning the use of internationally prohibited chemical weapons against the Syrian people by the regime of [Syrian President] Bashar Al-Assad,” international and Arab diplomats said that there was a deep split between the leading Arab capitals on possible scenarios for de-escalation in Syria and the future of Al-Assad.

According to one international diplomat, “the messages sent from the Arab capitals to the US on Syria are conflicting.” He added that while some capitals were more favourable than others to the Western position on Al-Assad, others were lining up with the Russian position.

This division, sources say, was reflected in Arab reactions to the message sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Arab Summit to express Moscow’s willingness to cooperate with the Arab leaders to find a settlement and start the reconstruction in Syria.

One thing that was clear at the Arab Summit was the continued commitment to call on Israel for peace in Palestine. On the day of the summit, commentators in the Saudi dailies were openly calling for Arab normalisation with Israel, arguing that Israel did not pose a threat to the Arab world “unlike Iran.”

However, contrary to the wishes of some Arab capitals, the summit did not issue a statement to welcome the willingness of US President Donald Trump to issue a new peace plan for the conflict. This, informed sources say, was the outcome of a firm rejection by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of this possible plan, deemed unfair by Palestinian leaders. Abbas, the same sources said, had received support in this stance from Jordanian King Abdullah.

Not only did Abbas have the US initiative dropped from the final communiqué of the summit, but he also secured a resolution that reiterated condemnation of Trump’s decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Saudi King Salman, current chair of the Arab Summit, also chose to name the meeting this year as the “Jerusalem Summit” and to pledge $200 million to support UNRWA, the UN agency working in Palestine, which has been suffering from a drop in resources due to a US decision to suspend funding.

One Palestinian source said that what the summit had effectively offered to try to end the “Palestinian plight” was very little, but the fact that it had ended without a resolution to open the door to the US initiative was significant because it showed that despite the unannounced relations of many Arab states with Israel, the Arab leaders were still at least observing the minimum when it comes to the Palestinian cause.

According to Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit, the summit went way beyond the minimum, however. “It repositioned the Palestinian cause as the central cause of the Arab regimes, and this is significant,” Abul-Gheit said during a press conference held with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir at the end of the summit.

Meanwhile, the summit failed to open any avenues for reconciliation between Qatar and the four Arab states that have taken a strong position against Doha for its alleged support of terror groups. The four Arab states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, avoided escalation with Qatar, whose ruler, the emir, absented himself from the summit and sent an envoy.

In his statement to the opening session of the summit, Emir of Kuwait Jaber Al-Sabah said that there was a need for more intensive efforts to resolve Arab differences. Al-Sabah is credited by Arab diplomats with containing the crisis between Qatar and the four Arab states last summer. However, according to informed sources, there is no serious chance to end the conflict between Qatar and the four Arab states today, given Doha’s continued support for political groups opposed to the regimes in these states and for militant groups acting against their interests in Yemen and Libya.

According to one Egyptian diplomat, “Egypt cannot agree to any compromises when it comes to the war on terror, and this is not something we can turn a blind eye to.”

In his statement before the summit, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed that the war on terror was a top priority for Egypt and the Arab countries. Al-Sisi reiterated his position that the Arab countries could not tolerate support for states, Arab or not, that provided direct or indirect support to groups committing terrorist acts.

Egypt, the Egyptian diplomat said, was a key player in the drafting of the language adopted by the summit on the need for firm collective Arab action against terror and terror groups.

The resolutions adopted by the summit that convened in Saudi Arabia on Sunday might not be very different from those that have been adopted by previous summits. However, in the assessment of one Arab League source, the fact that the summit was still convening on a regular basis with the relatively high presence of Arab leaders was in itself significant.

“It keeps up a semblance of the Arab system at a critical time and despite the fact that most significant decisions are adopted outside collective Arab meetings,” he said.

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