Arab Summit: ‘Arabs lost confidence in their leaders’
The summit will do little to end the conflicts in the region, analysts say.
Arab leaders are convening near the Jordanian Dead Sea for the 28th annual summit of the Arab League, as the region faces distressing turmoil and political challenges.
Sixteen heads of states out of the 22-member confederation of Arab countries are expected to attend Wednesday’s meeting, including Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria will also be present, along with US and Russian envoys. Jordan’s King Abdullah II will be leading the summit.
Highest on the agenda is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been left on the back burner as repeated attempts to revive the remnants of a peace process have failed and the situation on the ground becomes ever more difficult to resolve.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the Arab League, said the Palestinian Authority may introduce a new peace initiative in the summit, but Palestinian officials were quick to deny such claims.
The Arab League, according to analysts, is expected to revive the 15-year-old Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed in the Lebanese capital Beirut in 2002. The initiative calls for full Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and the Golan Heights, in return for “normal relations” between Israel and the Arab states.
The initiative also calls for a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem, in accordance with UN resolution 194, which endorses giving Palestinian refugees the option to return to their homes or to accept compensation instead.
have turned into international conflicts, and the Arab League is incapable of making any decisions.”]
But with a new US administration under President Donald Trump, analysts say US efforts to bring key Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, into a new framework for peace could be “dangerous” for the Palestinian cause.
Trump has been vague on his plans for any peace deal between Israel and Palestine, but rocked the boat when he dropped the two-state solution as the only solution for a future peace, considered a major shift in US policy.
Next month, Trump is expected to meet with Sisi and Abbas in Washington, DC.
“In light of what some Arab leaders described as a joint vision with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu for a regional approach to tackle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I fear that a new modality for the Arab Peace Initiative might be put on the table (explicitly or implicitly),” Alaa Tartir, programme director at Al Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, told Al Jazeera.
“This new modality will be dangerous as it would aim for an explicit normalisation with Israel before it ends its occupation, return to futile and absurd negotiations, and give up some fundamental Palestinian rights, such as the right of return,” said Tartir.
In meetings a day prior to the summit, US envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, said on Twitter he had a “constructive discussion” with Aboul Gheit, on paths forward for an Israeli-Palestinian peace and “comprehensive peace in the region”.
Encouraged by a friendly Trump administration, Netanyahu has acted with impunity, sanctioning more settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, stirring fears of what a potential peace deal could look like.
The Palestinian leadership, said Tartir, “must challenge and reject” any “further compromised parameter … to send a clear message to the Trump administration before Abbas goes to [Washington] DC” in April.
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In addition to the Palestinian question, the agenda for the summit pledges to address the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, as well as Libya, Iraq, and Iran‘s role in the region.
“The Arab summit is important because it will tackle all the crises in the Arab region. Starting with the Palestinian cause, and the crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen. As well as the issue of counterterrorism, and other political, economic, social issues that concern the Arab states,” said Hossam Zaki, Arab League assistant secretary-general, said.
“This summit will tackle these crises with the logic of: How can we work together to end these crises? It is true that the journey seems long. It is true that the journey seems full of obstacles. It is true that the crises are grave and difficult and solving them seems impossible to some. However, I think we need to start somewhere,” added Zaki.
But beyond the veneer of optimistic language, experts say the summit would, at most, conclude with a vague joint statement and “strong language”, but no determination to move forward.
“The Arab summits have become familiar routine, dominated by divisions and tokenism. Arab people have long lost confidence in their leaders carving up solutions or meeting their expectations, this summit won’t be an exception,” Salah Nasrawi, a Cairo-based veteran journalist with extensive experience covering the Arab summits, told Al Jazeera.
“We might hear the same narrative but the Arab countries remain sharply divided on almost all key issues on the summit’s agenda and they can hardly agree on the controversial issues,” added Nasrawi.
Doha-based expert on Iranian affairs and a professor of contemporary Arab politics, Mahjoob Zweiri, said he “expects there will be strong criticism of Iran, of its intervention and activities in the region, but even then Arab countries are not unified in their perception of Iran.”
“The final statement will be vague as usual. They will keep things hanging and show no determination, because the current [Arab] political order is not capable of providing solutions – everyone is looking out for their own interest, which is to survive,” Zweiri told Al Jazeera.
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The region has been particularly unstable since the string of uprisings in 2011, dubbed the “Arab Spring”, which attempted to topple decades-long dictatorships. The subsequent rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ( ISIL ) armed group, which seized large swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq in 2014, wreaked havoc on the region.
The war in Syria , which started in March 2011 as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad , has since turned into a proxy war, with the direct and indirect intervention of several regional and global powers. The country has entered its seventh year of war, with no solution in sight.
Similarly, the security situation in Iraq has been crumbling for more than a decade, following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 in the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of the country. Iraq has since faced systematic violence and is now engaged in a war against ISIL (also known as ISIS).
Libya has also been suffering from five years of armed conflict and political deadlock; the country has ended up with two governments, a lack of security, and is nearing economic collapse. Not to mention the war in Yemen, which has pushed the country to the brink of famine.
In these conflicts, millions have been killed, forced to flee their homes, and can only dream of a brighter future.
With the intervention of major international players in the conflicts of the Arab world, analysts say Arab leaders do not have the power to make decisions, rendering such conferences futile.
“The source for solutions is not the Arab region – they are linked with international players. So, unless those players are involved, there will be no solutions,” said Zweiri.
Hamzeh al-Mustafa, a Doha-based researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, agrees. “There is no Arab decision-making role for the crises in Syria and Libya. In Syria, the UN is the one supervising the political process, under US and Russian sponsorship,” said Mustafa.
“In Libya, the Arab League has no active role in the current initiatives – it is the Italians, the US, the French. In Yemen, the Arab League has not produced any initiatives as well – the issue is with the UN and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),” he told Al Jazeera.
“The crises [in the Arab world] have turned into international conflicts, and the Arab League is incapable of making any decisions.”