The remarks opening a two-day Arab summit on Tuesday marked a clear shift away from a Jordanian proposal that Arab leaders had already rejected.

 

In what would have been a dramatic change in Arab countries' peace strategy, Jordan had suggested that Arab League members offer diplomatic ties to Israel before it returned occupied lands.

But Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told the summit that Israel should not expect "the Arabs will make concessions and even normalise without anything real in return".

Only 13 heads of state from the league's 22 members attended the summit. Others stayed away either for health reasons or because of personal disputes with other members, sending lower-level officials in their place.

With a thin agenda, the summit sidestepped glaring issues that have shaken the Arab world in recent months - increased pressure for democratic reform, new optimism in the peace process, Sudanese issues, huge demonstrations in Lebanon and the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Instead the leaders spoke in support of Syria's concerns about US pressure and considered reform of the Arab League itself.

Jordanian proposal

 

Jordan's King Abd Allah II had shaken the summit preparations with his peace initiative. When it was rejected, he did not attend.

 

Jordan had argued that if Arab nations go ahead with normalisation, it would prompt Israel to make major peace concessions.

Musa did not mention the Jordanian proposal, but dismissed the idea of normalisation.

 

"Israel is pressing to gain concessions without anything in return. It imagines that our rights will be forgotten and that the support and immunity it enjoys will allow it to continue in building settlements and erecting the imperialist wall and keeping the occupied territories - or most of them"

Amr Musa,
Arab League secretary-general

"Israel is pressing to gain concessions without anything in return.

"It imagines that our rights will be forgotten and that the support and immunity it enjoys will allow it to continue in building settlements and erecting the imperialist wall and keeping the occupied territories - or most of them," he said.

Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen led the fight to reject the Jordanian proposal. The summit is expected to endorse a text reaffirming a Saudi peace initiative approved in 2002.

That initiative said Arab states were prepared to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for its full withdrawal from occupied Arab territory, the creation of a Palestinian state and settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue.

Pressed by the United States to move towards democracy and combat what it calls Islamic terrorism, Arab leaders struck a defensive note, saying that reform cannot be imposed from outside.

 

Lebanon crisis

Algerian President Abd al-Aziz Butaflika said terrorism should be defined in a way "that everyone in the United Nations can agree on".

League chief Musa said: "This century has started with us in an unenviable defensive situation," and called for "different and daring collective action".

 

Algerian President Butaflika is
presiding over the summit 

He said Arab nations should support Iraqi stability and back Sudan in trying to end the Darfur crisis.

"Finally, there is Lebanon, to which our hearts go out during this critical stage its going through, and it's hoping for sincere and active Arab support," he said.

Syria has pulled back its troops in Lebanon eastward towards its border, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia have pressed it to remove its forces completely.

 

US and United Nations pressure has increased on Syria to withdraw, and the country has been shaken by giant demonstrations demanding Syria end its long domination of Lebanon.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim said leaders were expected to express support for Syria "in the face of American pressures".