Gahdafi and Assad.
(photo credit: AP)
Upon landing at Libya’s tiny Sirte international airport, Arab leaders must have quickly figured out that the Arab League’s 22nd summit was going to be a little different to the other annual gatherings held in various Arab cities over the years – in superficial terms that is, not in terms of context and focus.
The host, Muammar Gaddafi, who presided over the League’s summit for the first time, insisted on a traditional Arab atmosphere and arranged for authentic entertainment for his guests – camel and horse riding. Pita bread and dry dates were served in Beduin tents, so beloved by the “Brother Leader,” as Gaddafi is often called by his compatriots.
The choice of Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, wasn’t a trivial one, as this modest city, although well-located between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, is hardly suitable for large conventions such as the Arab summit, attended by heads of states and hundreds of politicians, diplomats and reporters. By choosing it, Gaddafi was honoring himself and his tribe. Al-Jazeera reported on problematic hotel arrangements and dissatisfaction among the Arab delegations with the venue.
Gaddafi opened the session with a joke, as he usually does, teasing the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani, for being overweight. The guests, who by now are used to Gaddafi’s odd sense of humor, smiled politely.
Besides the lack of five-star service in the hotel, Arab leaders were in unanimous agreement on another issue: Israel. Israel, of course, should be condemned strongly and vehemently, and its violations in east Jerusalem were completely intolerable, stressed the speakers, who called to “rethink” the their backing of indirect negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.
The emir of Qatar, who hosted the last Arab summit, in Doha, wondered if “condemnations are enough for Jerusalem and al-Aksa? Are we and our peoples convinced that all we can do is to condemn and denounce? Do we really have to wait for the Quartet regarding Jerusalem and al-Aksa? Can anyone believe that we are incapable of lifting the siege on Gaza?”
Gaddafi added that Arabs were “waiting for actions, not words and speeches.”
Amr Moussa, the League’s staunchly anti-Israeli secretary-general, asked the participants to “look for another solution if peace talks fail.”
Joining the Arab chorus was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who labeled Israeli construction in east Jerusalem “madness.” (Erdogan, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accepted invitations to attend the summit).
As usual, the Arab-Israeli conflict was in the limelight, demonstrating yet again its necessity for Arab summits – what would the distinguished presidents and kings discuss in its absence?
The need to introduce reforms in Arab societies to meet the challenges of modernity? The bleak future of Iraq torn by sectarian struggle? The necessity of having a united Arab position on Iran’s push for hegemony in the Persian Gulf?
The terrifying prospect of a nuclear Iran?
True, this time Moussa managed to touch on the Iranian issue in his speech, calling for Arab-Iranian dialogue, but this proposal wasn’t met with much enthusiasm. Instead, the Arab leaders kept focusing on the necessary plan of action to rescue Al-Aksa and to stop the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.
The first (and probably the last) step in this plan involves raising $500 million to aid the Palestinians in east Jerusalem. The Arab League hasn’t fulfilled many of its previous financial commitments to the Palestinians, while Gaddafi himself owes the League a sizable amount of cash – he hasn’t paid his country’s membership fees in years.
The deep gap between the brotherly Arab nations continued to yawn during each and every session, not allowing the participants to even reach a common position on Palestinians. Gaddafi was visibly surprised by strong Syrian pressure to introduce a new initiative calling to support “the Palestinian resistance.” At one point the Libyans announced that if the final statement included any reference to this initiative, Tripoli would add a special clause outlining its reservations. And the Palestinians as usual found themselves caught in between, stressing that they were “ready to fulfill any decision of the Arabs.”
It was no surprise then that 92 percent of participants in an
Al-Jazeera online poll said they did not expect any important decisions
from the Arab summit to protect Jerusalem or the Palestinians.
Shortly before the summit began, Gaddafi loudly declared that he’d like
to revive the spirit of the historic Khartoum summit in 1967, famous
for its “3 No’s” resolution: No to recognition of Israel, no to talks
with Israel, no to peace with Israel.
While not going as far as nixing the prospects of proximity talks
between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Libyan leader
succeeded in presiding over an Arab League summit with the spirit of
negativism of ’67’s Khartoum meeting. The unwritten resolution of the
summit in Sirte might state: “No to discussing important issues, no to
overcoming the gaps and the splits in the Arab world, and no to reforms
and new ideas.”