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How to prevent Israel’s Arab friends from becoming its lobby in Algeria-hosted Arab Summit?

October 27, 2022 at 8:45 am

President of Algeria Abdelmadjid Tebboune on October 13, 2022 [Fazil Abd Erahim/Anadolu Agency]

Re-emerging Algeria badly needs to host a major event like the summit of the League of Arab States (LAS) which is due to convene in the capital, Algiers, on 1 – 2 November. The country has been through almost three years of social disturbances that forced the former president out of office, paving the way for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to be elected in December 2019, only for him to fall ill with COVID-19, thereby forcing his absence for months while seeking treatment.

During that time Algeria seemed to be at a standstill, both regionally and internationally, while the world around it kept moving. The once-leading nation was paralysed by a lack of effective government and the absence of its newly elected leader. This is one reason why Algeria is keen on hosting the Summit now. It wants to send a message that it is stable, and safe with an effective government capable of hosting big events like the LAS Summit, with all the security and logistical burdens involved.

Domestically, the Summit coincides with the 68th anniversary of the Algerian Revolution that ignited the independence war against France to gain independence in 1962. The 1 November Revolution is a much-commemorated event in the Algerian calendar, and to have large number of dignitaries taking part is a positive public relations event in itself. For President Tebboune, celebrating the occasion alongside his Arab colleagues is a moment of personal prestige.

In terms of Arab solidarity, the main theme of the Summit, Algiers wants to update other LAS members on its efforts to end inter-Palestinian disagreements. On 13 October, Algeria succeeded in bringing together all Palestinian factions for a much-needed reconciliation that produced a document calling for Palestinian elections—seen as the final step in ending Palestinian divisions. Mr. Tebboune, personally, oversaw Palestinian leaders embrace each other, in what is hoped to be a new beginning after 15 years of feud.

READ: 6 leaders absent from upcoming Arab Summit in Algeria

But the LAS Summit, which is usually a dull event, comes at a time when over one-third of member States have normalised relations with Israel. Furthermore, over the last three years, nearly half of LAS’s 22 member countries have, overtly or covertly, been in contact with Israel in one way or the other. Algiers, on the other hand, has repeatedly vowed opposition to any form of normalisation with Israel, unless the Palestinians get their freedom and their own State.

Algeria wants this Summit to be one of unity and cooperation among LAS members, with the Palestinian issue remaining central on the summiteers’ agenda, as it has been for decades. This, Algiers hopes, can be translated into a solid and practical position that goes beyond empty statements—LAS members are simply required to do something to counter the Israeli aggressions. Palestine, after all, is an LAS member, just like others.

Since the last summit in March 2019 in Tunisia, the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians has increased, manifesting itself in more land grabs in the West Bank, more Israeli expansion of settlements, demolishing of Palestinians’ homes and unprecedented attacks on the Al-Aqsa mosque. The least LAS leaders could do is to take action to counter the Israeli apartheid policies in meaningful ways, by supporting Algerian efforts to unite the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the reality in the Arab world says something else. LAS members remain divided and uncommitted to whatever they sign up to under the LAS umbrella. This makes it doubtful that the summiteers are likely to adopt any strong position against Israel, given the fact that the Jewish State is being welcomed by many LAS members at the expense of the Palestinians. For example, it is unlikely that the Summit will take any practical steps to force Israel to engage in any serious negotiations to end its occupation of Arab lands in Palestine, and beyond.

Israel, since the last Summit of 2019, has been engaging in a long term policy of “divide and normalise” with already divided many Arab countries, including Algeria’s western neighbour, Morocco, further alienating Algeria.

It is expected that King Mohammed VI of Morocco will attend the Summit, but it is another story if that will have any positive effect on the severed relations between Algiers and Rabat. When Algeria took the abrupt decision to cut all ties with Morocco in the summer of last year, it cited, among others, the Israeli-Moroccan normalisation.

Israel, Morocco sign defence deal amid normalised ties - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel, Morocco sign defence deal amid normalised ties – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

On the other hand, some LAS members, currently engaged in fast moving normalisation with Israel, are likely to become its lobby within LAS, preventing even the adoption of any strongly worded communiqué. Because any such statement is likely to include, however indirectly, some kind of criticism of the on-going contacts with Israel by member countries like United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, for example.

Historically, the “old timers” of normalisation, Egypt and Jordan in this case, have become mediators between Israel and the Palestinians, despite their LAS commitments to support their Palestinian brothers, at least when necessary. In fact, Egypt is an active participant in the siege imposed by Israel on Gaza since 2007, while Jordan has done almost nothing to counter Israel’s systematic attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque which is, supposedly, under its administration and protection.

While the issue of ties with Tel Aviv is not on the agenda, it lurks in the minds of many Arab leaders, and Algerian leaders are very sensitive to the matter.

Algiers is not expecting other LAS leaders to agree, for example, on freezing of ties between Tel Aviv and other Arab capitals, but it certainly hopes to have the leaders commit to more sensible support for the Palestinians, inside and outside of Palestine. If not freeze the unprecedented wave of normalisation, at least slow it down to send the Israeli occupation authority a clear message that LAS, while clinically dead, can still do something, however little.

READ: Algeria’s universities are switching to distance learning due to Arab Summit

Algeria is particularly hypersensitive towards its western neighbour, Morocco’s, embrace of Israel. While the bilateral Algerian-Moroccan relations are not expected to be discussed at the Summit, but behind the scenes mediations are likely to be taking place. So far, though, both Algiers and Rabat are tight lipped about the issue. It remains to be seen if King Mohamed VI will actually attend, as has been confirmed, and whether or not he will meet his host, President Tebboune, to attempt to reinstate ties between the two countries.

Arab masses expect very little from such LAS Summits, and this upcoming one is no exception. However, many would consider it successful if the leaders could forge and honour the common LAS position that strictly prohibits “normalisers” from becoming Israeli lobbyists—however weak and dishonouring such a position is!

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.