Recent reports said that the Arab League is suffering from a severe financial crisis which could force the organisation to move its headquarters from Cairo to Dubai, so that the government of the UAE can pick up the tab for its running costs. Diplomats have said that it has lost its role and Secretary General Ahmed Abul-Gheit is warning that it could be dissolved. What, though, has the League ever done for the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular? Has it, indeed, ever actually done anything at all?
The Arab League is nominally the main Arab representative organisation; it has 22 member states. The organisation was established in 1945 after a year of discussions initiated by the then Prime Minister of Egypt, Mustafa Al-Nahhas Basha. According to the BBC, and this opinion is supported by many Arab scholars, the idea of the Arab League was proposed by Britain as it wanted to gather together the Arab leaders against the Axis powers during World War Two.
Article two of the Arab League Charter identifies the purpose of the organisation as “close cooperation” in “economic and financial affairs, communications, cultural affairs, nationality, passports, visas, execution of judgments and extradition of criminals, social affairs and health affairs.”
According to article three of the charter, it is its council which “decides upon the means by which the League is to cooperate with the international bodies… in order to guarantee security and peace and regulate economic and social relations.”
Given the terms of these two articles, it is highly pertinent to ask what the Arab League has been doing while its member states fight against each other and other nations are attack them and violate their sovereignties. Let us be generous, and suggest that the Arab League has never been equipped to deal with such major issues; what about the Palestine issue, though, to which the organisation’s charter allocated a special section? Palestine’s “international existence and independence in the legal sense cannot be questioned any more than could the independence of the other Arab countries,” the charter insists.
So what has the Arab League done for Palestine? When the Zionist Leader David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the state of Israel on 15 May, 1948, the Arab League issued a statement, in which it pointed out that “Palestine is an Arab country” and “the rule of Palestine should revert to its inhabitants… and the Palestinians should alone have the right to determine their future.”
However, the member states of the Arab League could never stop the Zionist project, which has been Judaising the land of Palestine continuously since 1948. The Arab League has never even liberated a single square metre of the historic land of Palestine, which is a member of the organisation.
Moreover, after less than three decades, the largest Arab state, Egypt, recognised Israel as a state on the land of Palestine occupied in 1948, amounting to 78 per cent of its total area. Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat visited Israel in 1977 and two years later he signed a peace accord with the Zionists that included the normalisation of ties on the basis of keeping the neighbourhood peaceful.
Egypt is home to about one third of all Arabs; it is Palestine’s neighbour; and it initiated and hosted the discussions which led to the establishment of the Arab League. It was also the first country to turn its back on the League, which suspended its membership and moved its headquarters to another country. When other Arab states followed Egypt, the League ended its suspension and moved back to Cairo.
In 1994, Jordan, the second effective member of the Arab League, also signed a peace treaty with Israel that included normalisation of ties and the exchange of ambassadors. In fact, even before Jordan made this move, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which represented the state of Palestine in the Arab League, recognised Israel in 1993 in its covering letter for the now notorious Oslo Accords.
In 2002, the Arab League unanimously adopted a Saudi Peace Initiative, which recognised Israel as a sovereign state. Practically, this means that the 78 per cent of historic Palestine occupied since 1948 is no longer recognised by the Arab League’s members as part of Palestine; logically, therefore, the League also denies that the original Palestinian inhabitants ethnically cleansed when Israel was created no longer have a right to return to their land. That is the devastating impact of the recognition of the state of Israel by the Arab League and its members.
Putting such considerations to one side, in recent years the Arab League has been unable to help the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, who have faced three major Israeli military offensives within six years. Although some individual member states have provided vital support, the organisation itself has not done anything to treat the wounded or rebuild their destroyed homes. In fact, only one member out of 22 in the Arab League — Qatar — has acted upon what it feels is its duty to help the Palestinians. Two others, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have offered limited and conditional help to rebuild a few homes.
Instead of helping the Palestinians in Gaza to cope with the effects of the 10 year internationally-backed Israeli siege, the Arab League has been unable to put pressure on Egypt to open a border crossing, even for humanitarian purposes. This is despite the terms of its charter.
The secretary general of the Arab League has warned that the Arabs will be the losers if the Arab League has to close down due to a lack of funds. This is the same man who, when he was the Egyptian foreign minister, warned that any Palestinian trying to escape the siege in Gaza by crossing into Egypt — which is supposed to be a brotherly Arab state and fellow member of the Arab League, remember — would have his legs broken by the security forces.
That was Abul-Gheit’s attitude; the man now leading what is supposed to be the umbrella organisation for all Arabs, regardless of their nationality. He neither cares about the Palestinians nor wants to help them. Why, then, should anyone care about or want to help what is clearly an organisation that is not only financially but also morally and legally bankrupt? We will be better off without it. The Arab League is an abject failure which exists to suppress, not support, the Arabs. If it has no other purpose — and it clearly hasn’t — then it should be closed down. Nobody will miss it, least of all the people of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.