The Arab League summit: two challenges

Ghassan Khatib
27 March 2007

The Arab League summit convening in Riyadh on 28-29 March 2007 comes at a time of growing concern over the absence of regional order, the minimal level of Arab unity and coordination, and the lack of overall leadership.

Ghassan Khatib is co-editor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning

This article was first published in bitterlemons

Also by Ghassan Khatib in openDemocracy:

"The view from Palestine"
(15 October 2001)

"The view from two analysts – one Israeli, one Palestinian" (11 April 2002) – with Yossi Alpher

"An international solution? " (9 May 2002) – with Yossi Alpher

Regional conflicts and external interference have devastated the Arab world to an unprecedented degree. Hand-in-hand with this there has been a process of radicalisation and political Islamisation in the region that is contributing to widening the gaps between the Arab region and the rest of the world - gaps on cultural and ideological levels as well as in the areas of economic and social development.

There are two immediately pressing issues that require joint action and strong leadership. The first is the bleeding wound that is Iraq - with all its regional ramifications, including the exploitation of that conflict by Iran to extend its growing influence in parts of the Arab world, a development perceived as a threat to the national security of some Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf.

The second is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially in its regional dimension. There is a growing belief that without a solution to this conflict, and by leaving the Palestinians to the mercy of the Israelis and thus continued suffering and injustice, the regional picture is complicated and regimes with an interest in regional stability and deradicalisation are endangered.

The explosive situation in Lebanon is another area of concern that requires the attention of the Arab League, especially since the problems there are a function of the policies of some Arab and regional countries that are exploiting Lebanese vulnerabilities for their own interests.

The Saudi success in hammering out the Mecca agreement that ended internecine fighting in Gaza, as well as the growing international and regional interest in Arab initiatives, have encouraged the Saudi leadership in their efforts for this summit, which is set to focus primarily but not only on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The growing conviction internationally, but especially in Washington, of the need to reactivate the political process between Israelis and Palestinians has also encouraged the Arabs to unify their efforts and activate their diplomacy.

Also in openDemocracy on Arab diplomacy and Israel-Palestine:

Khaled Hroub, "Hamas's path to reinvention"
(10 October 2006)

David Govrin, "The Sadat precedent"
(27 November 2006)

Khaled Hroub, "Palestine's argument: Mecca and beyond"
(6 March 2007)

Yossi Alpher, "Riyadh's Arab summit: a precious opportunity"
(28 March 2007)

It has yet to be ascertained whether the Israeli leadership and the internal political situation in Israel are conducive to such constructive political activities. The test that Arabs and other concerned parties have to set for Israel, in order to judge its willingness to respond to these efforts and determine the Israeli desire for a solution, is to obligate Israel to end measures that consolidate the occupation.

Since the Arab peace initiative considers a peaceful solution to the conflict one that adheres to international law, Israel needs to prove its willingness and ability to end those practices that contradict international legitimacy. Prime among those, of course, are an end to settlement construction and construction of the wall as well as Jews-only road networks in the West Bank. But Israel must also show a readiness to ease restrictions on Palestinian movement in order to allow for an improvement of living conditions.

The success of this Arab summit is important not only for the Arabs but also for anyone with an interest in middle-east stability, including Israel and the United States. Should the summit fail to show progress toward the settlement of some of the regional conflicts, it will only reinforce the radical elements in the region.

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