Summit of determination? Or incapacity?

15-04-2019 10:44 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

I am not alone in my dismay at the outcome of the 30th Arab League Summit held in Tunis last March. I imagine that the Arab peoples, to say nothing of their politicians, intellectuals, or writers, are seething with anger at the persistence of the hollow-rhetoric phenomenon that goes under the name “Arab League Summits”.
The Tunis Summit convened—better that it had never convened!—to confront predicaments and challenges that threaten the very destiny of the Arab nation. Most serious among these challenges are decisions taken by US President Trump and described by the Egyptian street back in 2017 as: “He [Trump] gives what he does not possess to those who have no claim to”. That was when Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which the US had recognised as the capital of Israel. Last March, Trump again threw International Law to the wind, showed scant regard for world States, and ridiculed Arab States by declaring that the US recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This despite the United Nations resolutions that declared the Golan Heights, which Israel had seized from Syria in 1967, spoils of war; they remain a trust in the custody of Israel until they are returned in their entirety to Syria within a peaceful settlement between the two countries. Trump’s decision disregarded the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and China, who all rejected and denounced the US move; the international community branded it as “piracy”. However, the sad truth is that if the whole world can afford to do nothing more than rejection and denouncement, the Arab World cannot, especially given that the Arab summit convened before the ink had dried on Trump’s decision.
Equally sad is that Trump, in his smugness and arrogance as President of the United States, the most powerful military force in the world, knows that he can violate international legitimacy without standing to pay a price. He is also aware he can trifle with the Arabs, since they have already rendered themselves irrelevant. We all know how and why. I have repeatedly written about Arab fragmentation and conflict, so do not intend to bring that up again today. Nor do I intend to delve once more into the current state of the Arabs who have become mere ‘responders’ to international actions, not ‘doers’. Today I will only comment on Jerusalem and the Golan.
On 17 December 2017, following Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, I wrote under the title: “What will rational governments do?” an editorial which I still find very apt today. Following are excerpts of it:
“The decision goes back to 23 October 1995 when the US Congress decided to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But the decision was eschewed for 22 years by three US presidents who each persuaded Congress that US strategic interests called for putting off the execution of the decision, in order to avoid anticipated escalation in the Middle East crisis… So what has transpired today to change the rules of the game?… The Palestinians, riddled with internal divisions, compromised their cause as they indulged in conflicts, and repeatedly failed to achieve conciliation among their ranks. They gave the Israelis the perfect pretext to walk out of peace negotiations; they claimed they could not know who to talk to: Ramallah’s Palestinian authority or Gaza’s Hamas.
“The Amman Summit which was held in 2017 boasted nothing but the customary clauses of denouncements and rejection, decrying Israeli attempts to change the legal and historical state of Jerusalem, and appealing to world States not to move their embassies to Jerusalem. However none of the participants dared remind the Arabs of the Arab League’s 1991 decision to sever ties with any State that moved its embassy to Jerusalem; the decision which was applied to El Salvador—but what about the US?.. Would the Arab States sever their ties with the US?.. No, the Arab States found the demonstrations by their peoples against the US decision, in addition to burning effigies and US and Israeli flags, sufficient… If the Palestinian cause was compromised by the Arabs, why are we surprised that the US compromises it too?”
I pointed out at the beginning of this editorial that I was not alone in my dismay at the outcome of the Arab League’s latest summit in Tunis, termed by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi “the Summit of Determination and Solidarity”. I present here some of the responses I spotted:
“The Arab Summit in Tunis showed no fangs to threaten US interests in our vital region”, wrote Massoud al-Hennawy, pointing out that the Summit, in face of the flagrant violation of our territory, sovereignty and dignity, merely boasted the toothless customary denouncement and routine rejection.
“The mere holding of the Tunis Summit in the wake of Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights exudes no significant power or effectiveness,” Dr Ussama al-Ghazaly Harb wrote. “Power and effectiveness can only come out of on-the-ground action, not of hollow easy-to-fire rhetoric.”
“It is true that Trump’s decision regarding the Golan is illegal,” Salah Montasser wrote, “but when during the last 50 years did we hear any serious mention by Syria of the Golan Heights?”
My final question goes to the summit not of “determination and solidarity”, but of “impotence and irrelevance” in Tunis. Was it hard for the Arab States to jointly and simultaneously recall their ambassadors from Washington? Or at least call them up for consultation, and express Arab protest? Or would this have upset Mama America?

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