Meeting in Tunisia’s capital comes against backdrop of divisions, wars and, in some countries, increasing repression.
Tunis, Tunisia – Arab leaders meeting in Tunis have issued a renewed call for the establishment of a Palestinian state and condemned a move by the United States to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
Held in Tunisia’s capital, the 30th Arab League summit kicked off on Sunday against the backdrop of ongoing conflicts, serious divisions and unrest – from the long-running wars in Syria and Yemen to Libya‘s instability, and from mass anti-government protests in Algeria and Sudan to a major diplomatic dispute in the Gulf.
In a speech opening the summit, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia reiterated his kingdom’s support for a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi echoed the king’s speech, reiterating the significance of the Palestinian cause to the Arab world as he issued a call for unity.
“It is unreasonable for the Arab region to continue to be at the forefront of tensions and crises,” Essebsi, the host of the summit, said.
Arab leaders – including Salman, Essebsi and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – also condemned US President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel seized in the 1967 war.
“We reiterate our categorical rejection of measures that would undermine Syrian sovereignty over the Golan,” King Salman said.
However, expectations for any concrete action were low, partly due to the close ties regional powerhouses such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have cultivated with the Trump administration, viewing it as a key ally against their main rival, Iran.
“There is very little intention to come up with very clear outcomes other than the usual discourse of establishing Palestine right and the general Arab stance on regional issues,” Majed al-Ansari, professor of political sociology at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera.
“I don’t believe I’ve heard anything that would constitute a new trend in what would come out of the summit,” Ansari said.
Meanwhile, Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, did not attend the meeting in Tunis. In recent weeks, they have both faced growing calls to step down as thousands have taken to the streets calling for political change.
The readmission of Syria back into the League, from which it was suspended in 2011 following President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, was expected to be on the summit’s agenda.
But officials speaking ahead of the meeting said it was unlikely Syria would be welcomed back any time soon.
The UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus last year, and other Arab states have expressed support for restoring relations.
But Saudi Arabia and Qatar have actively supported the rebels trying to overthrow Assad, and many other states view his government as an Iranian proxy that should continue to be shunned.
Commenting on the calls for unity amid the ongoing divisions and unrest, Ansari noted that the Arab League has a history of hollow statements not followed by actions.
“We also know that the declarations and talk about Arab unity that come out of the summit do not materialise in any shape or form,” he said.