The first regular Arab league summit in ten years concluded its business in Amman (capital of Jordan) on March 28, failing to solve the problems it had set out to tackle. The Palestinians, despite the rhetoric of solidarity with the intifada, were fobbed off with an offer of financial support that had been made at the emergency Cairo summit last October, but not implemented; the declaration calling for the lifting of sanctions on Iraq was non-binding.
The two remaining resolutions, both carried unanimously, dealt with peripheral issues of dubious importance. The first called for Arab economic integration, and the second – proposed by Egypt’s president Mubarak – called on member states to support UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s bid for a second term; this despute the fact that Annan has called for UN members to end their boycott of Israel, and his candidacy is supported by the US and Israel.
That this dismal performance was hailed as a success by Arab leaders and their docile media comes as no surprise. They justified their satisfaction by the backing for the intifada and budgetary support for the Palestinian Authority, and by the fact that the Arabs were able to agree on anything at all. They blamed Baghdad for the summit’s failure to resolve the Iraq-Kuwait dispute and to adopt a resolution on the lifting of the sanctions and other issues such as the no-fly zones above Iraq.
King Abdullah of Jordan, who hosted the summit, said in an interview with the London-based Financial Times on April 3 that, by refusing to agree to a proposed resolution, Iraq had missed an opportunity to win an Arab call for the lifting of the sanctions. ”Iraq lost a golden opportunity,” he said; “the Kuwaitis and Saudis went much further than any Arab country expected them to.” Arab leaders who had worked hard for a deal felt “bitter and frustrated at the Iraqis’ rejection of the resolution,” he added.
So the only resolution on Iraq (non-binding, of course) was in line with the scheme of ‘smart sanctions’ that Washington is proposing to replace the current regime. But Abdullah was not going to admit that the summit he had hosted was a failure. He said that the fact that the Saudis, Iraqis and Kuwaitis had sat around the same table “and nobody walked out” was an important step forward. Pro-government Arab media praised the summit on similar grounds. The Saudi-owned al-Sharq al-Awsat, for instance, called it “success exceeding the expected,” adding that the fact that a regular summit (as opposed to an emergency one) even met was success enough.
Western commentators were less disingenuous – indeed, openly contemptuous. The London-based Economist, for instance, called the summit “the Arabs’ Chat-Show”, saying that “neither Palestinians nor Iraqis can draw comfort from the Arab summit.” On the promise of financial backing for the Palestinians, the magazine commented that of the $1 billion pledged by the same leaders last October “less than 5 percent has actually been delivered.” The Economist was equally dismissive of the resolution on economic cooperation, pointing out that such cooperation would not lead to an economic boycott of Israel.
Even the New York Times was dismissive of the summit’s supposed help for Palestinians. In an editorial on March 30, it wrote: “the results were dishearteningly familiar. The 22 member states failed to reach agreement on Iraq. Little was done to help the Palestinian economy beyond an agreement to provide the Palestinian Authority with $40 million a month to make up for taxes being withheld by Israel and allow the payment of government salaries.”
The Zionist-controlled daily has no sympathy for Iraqis or Palestinians, and criticised the summit for its anti-Israel rhetoric. But the condemnation of the rhetoric was unnecessary, as most of the speakers at the summit hve no quarrel with Israel; some, like Kuwait, are more hostile to Palestinians. Kuwait does not allow Palestinians to enter its territory as migrant workers or to travel with Kuwait Airlines.
But perhaps the most telling comment on the summit was the behaviour of its participants after it ended. Mubarak and king Abdullah concentrated on their plans to revive ‘peace talks’ with Israel — a plan they did not mention at the Amman gathering but wanted to discuss with president Bush. Mubarak met Bush in Washington on April 2; Abdullah was scheduled to meet him on April 12. Mubarak has made at least one trip to the White House every year since he took office in 1982, and is used to travelling there to get his orders.