Thursday, March 24, 2005

Another fiasco in Algiers 

As the "Jerusalem Post" comments, "Arab League summits can hardly disappoint, since expectations are so low to begin with."

Still, with the hopes raised by the recent tumultuous events throughout the region, sadly, it seems the League's summit in Algeria has failed to grasp new opportunities.
Two quotes summarize the proceedings:

Deputy US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli: "I would note that 13 of the 22 heads of state were there, but I would say that the final communique did not have anything noteworthy, one way or the other, to comment on."

Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail: "When we look at what will be achieved during this summit versus the ambitions on the Arab street, we find that we are still very much at the beginning of the road."

Note that the "Arab street" is no longer an entity that rises up to protest every instance of American imperialism, but one which now agitates for freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. How much difference two years can make.

The summit doesn't seem to have tackled any important issue in any meaningful way. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the gathered leaders rejected the Jordanian proposal to advance the peace process by granting Israel a full diplomatic recognition before any peace deal is finalized. Instead, the League chose to warm up the old Saudi proposal "that offered Israel normalized relations only in exchange for its full withdrawal from those territories, the creation of a Palestinian state and settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue." The last point is an euphemism for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel; a move that would dramatically change the ethnic composition of Israel and for that reason is unlikely to be ever agreed to by the Israeli side.

Indeed, the Saudi initiative has been rejected by Israel three years ago, but the League's response is to redouble the effort of trying to sell it to policy-makers in the United States and Europe. Ominously, both
Hamas and Islamic Jihad also rejected the plan as "an unreasonable response to Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people."

On Lebanon, the Arab leaders condemned the US economic sanctions against Syria. On Iraq, they called for the end of foreign occupation, but not - as asked by the Iraqi government - for concrete efforts by Iraq's neighbors to stop the infiltration by jihadis.

The highlight - or lowlight - of the summit came with an unscheduled speech by Libya's Khaddafi who called both the Israelis and the Palestinians
"idiots". "The leaders, including Abbas who is making his debut at an Arab summit after he succeeded Yasser Arafat who died in November, broke out into uncontrolled laughter." Guess you had to be there.

No wonder, as
BBC reports, "newspapers across the Arab world express contempt for the proceedings", with London's Al-Quds al-Arabi writing "Almost half the leaders are not attending, and those attending are doing so only to please Algeria. This leads us to conclude that the Arab summit is at a stage which precedes death," and Jordan's Al-Dustur adding "We have seen all this before at previous summits. Why this boring farce? Perhaps we should reiterate the slogan of the Egyptian opposition: enough is enough!"

Overall, it seems like business as usual, a sort of a pre-September 11 make-believe diplomatic reality. The Arab League still doesn't seem to get it. No wonder their own people are taking to the streets, while their establishment keeps offering them stale cakes.


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