The Arab Summit in Amman will be different
The Arab heads of state look favourably at Washington’s desire to contain Iranian influence in Iraq.
2017/03/26 Issue: 99 Page: 7
The Arab Weekly
Mohamad Abou el-Fadel
The 28th Arab League summit will take place in Amman amid complex political and security issues in the region making it imperative for Arab leaders to agree on a common vision so as to preserve their national interests.
According to the rotation schedule, it was Yemen’s turn to host this ordinary session. But it had to decline due to the ongoing conflict there and for lack of logistical means. Last October, Jordan’s King Abdullah II agreed to host the summit in Amman.
Most of the time, summit decisions and positions are stated in such vague terms that member states often disregard them.
The Amman summit is expected to be different. Many Arab heads of state are expected to attend. Diplomatic efforts by Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have led to the belief that some bilateral issues, especially the recent dispute between Cairo and Riyadh, will be settled during the summit. Already, there are signs of détente between the two countries. Saudi Arabia has decided to resume supplying oil to Egypt at the rate of 700,000 tonnes a month.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit announced some days ago that the Amman summit would produce an important statement hinting that the heads of state were determined to patch up bilateral relations and close some political rifts.
Judging by the diplomatic activity in Cairo, the Palestinian cause is at the top of Arab priorities for the summit. The Palestinian cause has always garnered agreement among the Arab leaders. Taking advantage of Trump administration’s wish to rearrange its political cards in the Middle East, Arab heads of state will want to place the Palestinian cause at the centre of any future arrangements with America. The US attitude towards it is still fuzzy and the Arab leaders would want to adopt a common vision fixing the basis for a political solution in the Palestinian territories.
Last February, King Abdullah II met with US President Donald Trump in Washington and reiterated Jordan’s conditions for a political solution: Returning to the June 4th, 1967, borders, declaring East Jerusalem as the capital for the state of Palestine and ending colonies on Palestinian land.
Trump has indicated that he was not bound by the two-state solution, which previous US presidents had always favoured. Should Trump make good on his campaign promise to move the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it would constitute a major turning point in US-Arab relations. Moving the embassy has always been on the agenda of US presidents in the past but they all refrained from doing it, lest they irrevocably damage US relations with the Arab world.
The Palestinian cause will definitely dominate the debates at the next Arab summit. Israel continues to build colonies in flagrant violation of UN decisions and despite international outrage. To add complexity to the overall regional picture, Iran and Turkey have lately taken moves to appropriate the Palestinian cause and play it as a winning card in the power game in the region. The Arab leaders will certainly not keep quiet about these developments and will certainly insist on keeping the Palestinian cause within the sphere of Arab influence.
Also on the agenda of the Amman summit is the crisis in Libya. The consensus here is to encourage a political settlement and put an end to the chaos there, all within the framework of dealing with the terrorist threat in the region.
The Syrian crisis will be broached from the angle of the growing concern of the Arab heads of state about Iran’s expansionist policies. Syria will not be represented at the summit. Amman decided not to invite President Bashar Assad, thus avoiding direct discussions of the Syrian crisis.
Regarding Iran’s growing influence in the region, the Arab heads of state look favourably at Washington’s desire to contain Iranian influence in Iraq. Some Arab states are pushing for an Arab security alliance for the purpose of curtailing Iranian meddling in other Arab issues. However, not all Arab states are in favour of the move.
With all of these concerns on the agenda, the final statement of the Arab summit will certainly be very different from the preceding ones. It will definitely include a condemnation of Iranian meddling in the region and will insist on the necessity of Iran’s withdrawal from the Emirati islands. There will also be a call for an end to Iran’s meddling in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Some Egyptian diplomats insist on the necessity for the summit to mention concrete measures towards this end and on the necessity of returning Iraq and Syria to the Arab sphere. In addition, the Arab states have a vested interest in curtailing Iran’s presence and influence in Syria and Lebanon.