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(photo credit: AP)
Divided Arab states came together this week in Qatar to reiterate their support for the Arab Peace Initiative and to reject the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes.
Leaders at the 21st Arab summit in Doha called on US President Barack Obama's administration "to take a firm stand in confronting Israel's continued siege on Gaza, its illegal practices and particularly, the 'Judaization' of Jerusalem, expansion of settlement activities and violation of the rights of the Palestinian people and lack of acting in a serious way towards the peace process," in a final statement issued Monday night.
Members of the 22-nation Arab League also expressed hope that the new US administration will be "an honest broker" in achieving peace in the region and stressed the need "to identify a specific time frame for Israel" to fulfill its obligations to the peace process.
In an apparent reference to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's "economic peace plan," leaders rejected intentions to reduce the peace process and its political commitments to an economic and security approach "that perpetuates the occupation."
A just and comprehensive peace in the region would only be achieved with Israel's withdrawal from "all occupied Palestinian and Arab territories," a just and agreed upon solution to the Palestinian refugees and the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem, the statement said, reiterating the outlines of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Tuesday that he was pleased with the final statement, particularly because it showed the Arab Peace Initiative is still "on the table, and because Arabs are supporting Egypt's efforts to achieve reconciliation between divided Palestinian factions."
In addition, Arab leaders agreed to speak "with one voice" to Obama and the Quartet members concerning continued Arab support of the peace initiative.
Erekat said that there was no disagreement from Arab states concerning the wording of the statement.
Charging that Israel bears legal responsibility for "war crimes and crimes against humanity committed towards the Palestinian people" during the Gaza conflict, Arab leaders also "affirmed the determination to prosecute the perpetrators of the crimes and ensure a lack of impunity."
Palestinian leaders also asked the international community and concerned parties to respect what is agreed upon by Palestinians factions participating in reconciliation talks in Cairo "and not to impose any conditions on it."
They also called upon the UN Security Council and the international community to "shoulder its responsibilities" and take measures to stop Israeli settlement activities.
Arab leaders also expressed their support for Sudan's Bashir, "reiterating our solidarity with Sudan and our rejection of the measure of theâ€¦.International Criminal Court against his Excellency" Bashir, according to a final statement on the issue quoted in the Arab media.
Only three of the 22 Arab League nations are party to the ICC charter, but the declaration was seen as a show of unity with Bashir.
Bashir attended the summit in Qatar along with other Arab leaders and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who urged Sudan to allow the return of international aid groups to Darfur. The conflict between the Arab-led government and ethnic African rebels has claimed at least 300,000 lives and displaced 2.7 million since 2003.
But despite agreement on these and other major issues - including an intention to strengthen reconciliation and solidarity between Arab states - experts say the conference did little to bridge gaps between the feuding nations.
Reconciliation did not extend beyond the declarative level in Doha, said Jonathan Spyer, a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, Herzliya.
"The divisions in the Arab world between pro-Iranian and pro-American forces were not resolved in Doha by any means, and that division remains the key process in regional affairs," he said.
The absence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from the Qatari summit illustrates this point well, he said. Qatar has reportedly angered Egypt for drawing too close to the Iranian axis and for criticizing Cairo for not fully opening the Rafah border crossing during Israel's recent Gaza offensive.
"Notwithstanding the fact that the Arab League can come together to protect a fellow Arab dictator from the International Criminal Court, or can pay lip service to the Palestinian cause, none of the real existing divisions in the Arab world were resolved in Doha," Spyer said.
Similarly, Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Cairo-based al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies said that while the Arab summit did bring Arab states "a little bit" closer, "reconciliation, in which you have a common vision or common policies or an institutional way to manage differences - I'm not seeing much of that." At the summit, there was "a little bit of cooling of differences, but not in an institutional or structural way," he said.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sought Arab support Tuesday for a proposed oil-backed currency to challenge the US dollar, in his latest swipe at Washington's dominance in global financial affairs.
It's highly unlikely Chavez, who attended an Arab-Latin America summit in Qatar on Tuesday, will gain any serious momentum for his "petro-currency" proposal, but it represented another attempt to undercut the dollar's standing as the world's leading commercial currency.
China has struck deals - most recently this week with Argentina - to conduct trade in currencies other than the dollar. Iran has proposed replacing the dollar with the euro or other currencies to set worldwide oil prices.
AP contributed to this report.