Following more than two days of preparations and pre-summit discussions by foreign ministers, the leaders of the Arab states met last Wednesday on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea. Their speeches covered national, regional and international plans for several issues; none were related to development, unemployment or poverty; all were linked to fighting terrorism and terrorists.
While fighting terrorism and ridding the world of its evil is necessary for any society to be stable — it does, after all, provide a sound basis for state development and progress, and for tackling social crises, including poverty and unemployment — its sole focus in a meeting of Arab leaders in an Arab country begs us to ask just who the summit was for. Was it planned to address the crises afflicting the Arab states? Did it propose solutions for their chronic problems? Was it really planned by and for the Arabs?
The summit did not address the Arab crises. Sixteen leaders of 22 Arab states in conflict met in Jordan, and not one of them dared to address the causes of the conflict. King Mohamed VI of Morocco cancelled his participation at short notice; the leader of the Syrian regime was not invited; and the Egyptian president left the venue when the Emir of Qatar stood up to speak. So much for solidarity.
Even those who attended and ostensibly listened to each other speaking, did not pay attention to what was being said. The TV cameras caught at least four of the 16 leaders sleeping and others using their mobile phones during the speeches.
The 15-point final statement of the summit contained nothing to address the real issues and, in fact, looked very similar to the communiques issued by previous Arab League meetings. Hence, the Arab countries will continue to seek a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis and continue to support the countries hosting Syrian refugees.
The Syrian crisis started in 2011, since when around 500,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research. In the same period, the Arab League has met several times; the sum total of its effort to solve the crisis has been the suspension of Syria’s membership of the main Arab umbrella body. What has it done for the people of Syria other than provide some aid to those who are refugees? Treating the symptoms does nothing to treat the cause of the problem.
On Iraq, the final statement stressed the importance of the country’s stability and territorial integrity, considering them to be the cornerstones of Arab national security. The Iraq crisis started in 2003, when the US-led invasion took place. More than a million Iraqis have since been killed either in US attacks, suicide bombs or sectarian clashes. What have the Arabs done for this war-torn country? Nothing, apart from empty rhetoric.
In addition, the communique supported the resumption of the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on the two-state solution and 1967 borders. This solution was proposed by the US administration of George W Bush and adopted by the Arab League in 2002 as part of the Saudi-proposed “Arab Peace Initiative”. However, even the Americans themselves have been unable to convene peace talks leading to this end. The current Trump administration in Washington today does not think that it is necessary to achieve a two-state solution.
Nor does Trump think that illegal Israeli settlements, which have swallowed-up vast tracts of the occupied West Bank — the land earmarked for a future Palestinian state — are an impediment to peace. One of his officials last week told an Israeli newspaper that America understands Israel’s decision to build a new settlement in the occupied territory.
The Arab Peace Initiative, which included the two-state solution as the basis of the peace talks, was rejected out of hand by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. All of his successors and their officials have also been clear in announcing their rejection of it.
Little of this actually matters, because the Arab League is an irrelevance. Even as the Arab leaders were meeting in Jordan, the Israeli cabinet was voting on a new illegal settlement and announced the confiscation of 997 more dunams (222 acres) of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu said that they would be used for settlement purposes.
We should not, though, be too surprised that the people leading regimes which are often the cause of their people’s problems are reluctant to do anything to change their national status quo. They generally rule with an iron fist, to their own and their family’s great benefit; why should they change that?
A report in Arabi21.com on Saturday said that the real purpose of the latest Arab League summit was to achieve Trump’s goals by persuading the Arabs to form a Sunni alliance to back the US position in a confrontation with Shia Iran. According to the report, the Jerusalem Centre for Society and State Studies said that Jordan’s King Abdullah, who was the first Arab leader to meet with Trump as president, ran the summit from behind the scenes on behalf of the US leader. It noted that this was the first time that the White House had sent an official envoy to attend and address an Arab League summit.
Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt told the summit that “tangible progress could be made toward advancing Middle East peace.” And Middle East peace is a phrase that carries several meanings in this context.
AFP pointed out that Greenblatt held talks with the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Qatar, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This, said the Jerusalem Centre, was one of the aims of sending him to Jordan, and the scheduled visits of the Jordanian monarch to the White House on 5 April and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi two days earlier will continue such coordination for achieving Trump’s objectives. The rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt during the summit, it added, was also carried out for the benefit of the US.
So, back to the main question. Who was the Arab League summit for? The Arabs? Or Israel and the Americans? The evidence quite clearly suggests the latter.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.