Sunday 21 April 2019

Arab summit united in opposition to Trump’s Israel policy

Representatives from the Arab League aim to jointly condemn US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli control over the Golan Heights.

Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi chairs the opening session of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis (Fethi Belaid/AP)
Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi chairs the opening session of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis (Fethi Belaid/AP)

By Bouazza Bin Bouazza and Samy Magdy, Association Press

Leaders meeting in Tunisia for the annual Arab League summit were united in their condemnation of Trump administration policies seen as unfairly biased toward Israel.

This year’s summit comes against a backdrop of ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen, rival authorities in Libya and a lingering boycott of Qatar by four fellow League members.

Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir skipped the meeting as they contend with mass protests against their long reigns.

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Arab leaders pose for the camera ahead of the summit (Zoubeir Souissi/AP)

Representatives from the 22-member league — not including Syria — aim to jointly condemn US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli control over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war, and Mr Trump’s decision last year to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But they remain divided on a host of other issues, including whether to readmit founding member Syria.

At the opening of the summit, King Salman said Saudi Arabia “absolutely rejects any measures undermining Syria’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights” and supports the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

He added that Iran’s meddling was to blame for instability in the region.

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman attends the summit (Fethi Belaid/AP/)

One of the few things that has united the Arab League over the last 50 years is the rejection of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights as well as east Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for their future state.

The international community, including the United States, largely shared that position until Mr Trump upended decades of US policy by moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem last year and recognising Israel’s 1981 annexation of the strategic Golan plateau earlier this month.

The Arab leaders meeting in Tunisia are expected to issue a statement condemning those moves, but are unlikely to take any further action.

This is in part because regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have cultivated close ties with the Trump administration, viewing it as a key ally against their main rival, Iran.

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Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi chairs the opening session (Fethi Belaid/AP)

Both face Western pressure over their devastating three-year war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and Riyadh is still grappling with the fallout from the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents last year.

Lebanon’s foreign minister Gebran Bassil said on Saturday that Arab ministers had voiced support in a preparatory meeting for a declaration that Mr Trump’s Golan move violates the UN Charter, which prohibits acquiring territories by force.

In Syria, small protests against Mr Trump’s Golan move were held in different parts of the country and state media criticised the Arab summit.

“The Golan is not awaiting support from the Arabs, and not a statement to condemn what Trump has done,” the Thawra newspaper said in an editorial that accused Arab leaders of taking their orders from the US and Israel.

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Tunisian protesters burn a representation of the Israeli flag at a demonstration against the summit in downtown Tunis (Hussein Malla/AP)

The Arab League is expected to consider readmitting Syria, a founding member that was expelled in the early days of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.

But officials speaking ahead of the meeting said it was unlikely Syria would be welcomed back anytime soon.

The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus last year, and other Arab states have expressed support for restoring relations.

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Tunisian riot police in Tunis push back protesters at a demonstration against the summit (Hussein Malla/AP)

But Saudi Arabia and Qatar have actively supported the rebels trying to overthrow Mr Assad, and many other states view his government as an Iranian proxy that should be shunned.

In a rare sign of easing tensions across another regional rift, King Salman and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani sat at the same sprawling table when the heads of delegations met on Sunday.

It is the first time the two leaders have appeared in the same room since Saudi Arabia led the boycott of Qatar nearly two years ago over Doha’s ties to Iran and its support for regional Islamist groups.

Press Association

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