Arab leaders fail to agree on Gaza

Arab League divided on plan to reconstruct Strip, cannot agree on whether to back Egyptian peace efforts to end crisis.

arab resevoir dogs 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
arab resevoir dogs 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The deeply divided Arab League failed on Tuesday to come up with a plan to reconstruct the devastated Gaza Strip and could not agree on whether to back Egyptian peace efforts to end the crisis. The violence in Gaza has split Arab countries into two camps - one supporting Hamas and the other - mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia - hoping to lure the Palestinian terror group toward moderation. The political division could affect the stability of the fragile cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, which was in its third day Tuesday. Despite calls from both sides to end the rift, the Arab leaders could not come up with a unified statement about how to end the crisis in Gaza at the end of a two-day summit in Kuwait. Instead, the final statement only focused on criticism of Israel and vague pledges to help the Palestinians in Gaza. "The leaders stressed their determination to offer all kinds of aid to the Palestinian people and the reconstruction of Gaza," said the statement, read by Arab League chief Amr Moussa. So far, only Saudi Arabia has pledged $1 billion for rebuilding efforts, though it was unclear how and to whom the money would be distributed. Earlier Tuesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, without naming specific countries, said leaders were unable to reach a consensus. "Unfortunately, we didn't reach a final result because of time limits and because some are entrenched in their positions," Zebari told state-owned Kuwait Television. The failure to agree came a day after Saudi King Abdullah urged Arab leaders to end their differences and warned Israel that an Arab peace initiative proposed by kingdom would not remain on the table forever. The king, who along with Egypt have been pressuring Hamas to be more moderate, even invited his Arab rivals - the leaders of Syria and Qatar - to lunch at his Kuwait residence. Following the meal, Qatar's prime minister expressed optimism that both camps could work together, and local media praised the gathering as a historic "Arab reconciliation." But Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took a veiled swipe at Syria by criticizing Iran's ties with some Arab leaders - indicating that the two sides were still divided. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both staunch US allies, initially blamed Hamas for the Gaza crisis. Later, as the Gaza death toll increased and public pressure in the Arab world to support Hamas mounted, the two Arab powerhouses shifted their accusations toward Israel. More than 1,250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the three-week IDF operation in Gaza, which Israel launched to halt Hamas rocket fire. But the divisions between Arab countries grew deeper last week when Qatar hosted a summit on Gaza. Egypt and Saudi Arabia led a boycott of the gathering, which Qatar had called to take a united stance on Gaza but ended up being dominated by supporters of Hamas. The two sides also are divided about what should be done with the Arab peace initiative - first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and relaunched in March 2007. At the summit in Qatar, Syria called for putting the peace initiative on hold - a more radical position than the one outlined by Abdullah on Monday. The Arab peace initiative offers Israel collective Arab recognition in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from territory captured during the Six Day War, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. Israel initially rejected the initiative in 2002, but in the past year has said it could be a starting point for discussions.