Analysis: Arab summit in Qatar - a demonstration of weakness

The gathering laid bare the depth of the chasm in the Arab world, revealed in all its helplessness.

Gadhafi 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gadhafi 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The yearly gathering of Arab leaders which took place this week in Doha was supposed to be a summit of reconciliation; instead it laid bare the depth of the chasm in the Arab world, which was revealed in all its helplessness. Scheduled to run for two days - March 30 and 31 - it closed its doors at the end of the first day. It had become clear to the participants that they were going nowhere: so profound were the differences of opinion that there was no point of going on and no hope of reaching a consensus. Saudi King Abdullah did meet during the summit with Moammar Gadhafi after an estrangement of six years but that was a very small step which had no impact on the overall picture. The closing communiqué paid lip service to the very few points of agreement between the participants and did not even try to touch on any of the issues that were on the agenda. First and foremost among those issues was the Iranian question. Iran's subversive activities know no boundaries and impact all Arab countries to such an extent that they are threatening the stability of the region. The pursuit of nuclear capability by the Teheran's Ayatollahs is felt as a clear and present threat and pushes Arab countries on the path to a nuclear development of their own, the cost of which they will find difficult to bear. And if that was not enough, Iran has launched an all out effort to promote Shia Islam in predominantly Sunni countries, endangering the homogeneity of the traditionally conservative society of those countries. This has led Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to lash out publicly against these attempts on a number of occasions over the past few months. Morocco went further and cut off diplomatic relations with Iran over the same issue. Sheikh Qardawi, considered as the leading religious authority of the Muslim Brothers launched a scathing attack on Iran. This did not deter Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas from carrying out Iran's bidding. Syria shows no sign of considering severing its strategic ties to that country in spite of the blandishments of the French president, and those of the newly elected American president. Hizbullah refuses to lay down its weapons and threatens Lebanon's stability. Hamas has dealt a mortal blow to the Palestinian cause since its brutal takeover of Gaza, and blocks the establishment of a united Palestinian front to negotiate with Israel while unsettling Egypt. As for Iran, it is still holding the three islands in the Persian Gulf it wrested away from the United Emirates in 1971 and is reinforcing its grasp by building there and reinforcing its military presence. A high ranking Iranian official stated recently that Bahrain is an Iranian province, provoking such an uproar that President Mubarak made an unscheduled visit to affirm his support to "Arab Bahrain." The Egyptian president had vainly made an all-out effort in the weeks preceding the summit, with the help of Saudi Arabia, to put together a common political agenda for the members of the Arab league. A meeting in Riyadh two weeks ago between the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bashar Assad led nowhere, since the Syrian president was adamant in his refusal to mute his links with Teheran. The host of the Doha summit, the Emir of Qatar, who has been moving increasingly closer to Teheran, defended Iran's position; Al Jazeera, which he owns, kept on attacking Egypt and supporting Hamas. Speaking in the name of Mubarak who boycotted the summit, the head of the Egyptian delegation, Mofid Shihab, said that one cannot escape reality - the Iranian threat - and that one should not let non-Arab elements (Iran) interfere in the internal affairs of Arab countries to promote dissension. With reference to Al Jazeera he emphasized that Arab media should be more responsible, check facts and refrain from exacerbating differences of opinion between Arab states. But to no avail. The final communiqué issued a tepid call to Iran to reach a solution to the problem of the three islands of the Emirates through negotiation or to turn to the International Court of Justice. There were no operational decisions. Once again, Arab leaders demonstrated their unwillingness to confront the real issues; once again it appears that they much prefer let the United States - and Israel - do the work for them. On one issue the summit had come together: the international warrant of arrest issued by the attorney-general of the International Criminal Court against the President of Sudan, accused of genocide in Darfur and war crimes. The final communiqué expresses the solidarity of all participants with Omar Al Bashir and calls for the cancellation of the arrest warrant, stating that the court's decision was a grave violation of the sovereignty of Sudan. This is a most unwelcome development. The Arab League should have prevented Bashir from coming to Doha and if he did come, should have insisted on him being arrested, even though Qatar is not a signatory of the treaty which brought about the constitution of the ICC (Only three of the League's members are signatories - Jordan, Djibouti and the Comoros islands). In fact the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League who prepared the summit encouraged the Sudanese president through their draft communiqué submitted to the leaders which emphasized Arab solidarity with him. In the name of that same solidarity, participants at the summit blithely ignored the gravity of the charges and openly defied the international community and its courts. Genocide perpetrated by a fellow Arab leader is apparently of no consequence. Sad to say, the secretary general of the United Nations saw nothing wrong in attending the summit together with the Sudanese leader and listened blank faced at Bashir's tirades against the UN. His lack of reaction dealt a grave blow to the ICC. The conflict with Israel was very much on the agenda, as usual. The Syrian president, speaking first since he had been president of the previous summit, heaped coals on a country accused of not wanting peace and affirmed his support of armed resistance against Israel. Sudan's Bashir accused Israel with a straight face of arming the rebels in Darfur. The final communiqué called for the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital, and for "a just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugees, refusing all forms of their settling" in Arab countries where they have been living in camps the last 60 years - a formula of the right of return to Western ears. It also called for the return of the Golan to Syria, while forgetting to mention the so-called occupied territories in Lebanon, the Shaba farms and the village of Ghajar - until the president of Lebanon intervened at the last minute to include them. There was also a call to Israel to stop harming the holy places of Islam and Christianity in Jerusalem and to dismantle the security wall. There was, however, a reference to the Arab peace initiative. The Arab summit reiterated its commitment to peace as a strategic choice but stated that Israel should start moving towards peace - meaning that this initiative would not be available for ever. The summit condemned the war in Gaza, affirmed its support for PA President Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and called for reconciliation between the Palestinians and the creation of a national unity government. All the speakers stressed the need for Arab reconciliation. The final communiqué calls on all Arab countries to set aside their disputes through dialogue and concentrate on the interests of the Arab nation. But there was no reconciliation. Mubarak stayed away. The chasm remained wide. Once again, an Arab summit led nowhere. Once again, the leaders refused to tackle the Iranian issue. Their weakness and indecision was made all too evident in the early closure of the summit, a sure thing that they knew there was no point in pursuing a sterile dialogue.