The 152nd Arab League (AL) council ministerial session, hosted by Cairo on Tuesday, was held, according to a statement issued by the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry, at a particularly “critical and sensitive” time. Kuwait is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The routine gathering, conventionally held around this time of the year, had a longer than usual agenda which included the potential fallout from upcoming Israeli elections and the latest developments in Sudan.
“The timing of the meeting required it to come out with a strong and united position on regional challenges. And as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council Kuwait should convey that position to the UN General Assembly meeting due later this month,” says Tarek Fahmi, head of the Israeli Research Unit at the National Centre for Middle East Studies.
The AL meeting convened a week before the second Israeli election this year, and amid expectations that full details of US President Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century will soon be revealed. So far, the deal appears to prioritise Israeli interests over Palestinian rights, fundamental principles of international law, the Arab initiative and a two-state solution.
Israel goes to the polls on 17 September to elect 120 members of the Knesset. Following elections in April Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition and on 30 May the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and trigger new elections. The failure to form a coalition, and the Knesset voting to dissolve itself, are both unprecedented.
Fahmi says it is essential Arab countries send a clear message via the AL.
“The final communiqué should strongly condemn the latest Israeli practices in Jerusalem and Hebron and Israeli attempts to change the geography of occupied areas. Netanyahu’s recent visit to Hebron indicates that they don’t want peace,” he said.
In his visit to Hebron last week, Netanyahu said Jews will remain in Hebron forever.
The AL meeting was held less than a week after the formation of the first Sudanese government since the overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir in April. Recent positive developments in Sudan mean Khartoum is on the threshold of restoring peace and stability, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. “However, a lot remains to be done to secure sustainable peace. And the AL, as well as the individual Arab countries, need to play a prime role.”
The Sudanese government, announced last week and headed by Abdalla Hamdok, was formed as part of a three-year power-sharing deal signed between the military and civilian parties and protest groups.
In a sign of the significance of this latest development Egypt’s Foreign Minister Samir Shoukri headed to Khartoum this week where he met Sudanese officials, his counterpart Asma Abdalla, Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, leader of the sovereign Council, and Hamdok.
“Cairo is willing to offer all kinds of support for the Sudanese people,” Shoukri said after his meeting with Abdalla.
The visit came after Sudan’s successful progress in transitional arrangements including the formation of the new Sudanese government according to the constitutional document signed on 17 August, and after Sudan’s suspension from the African Union was lifted.
Other challenges awaited the AL meeting. Crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen are far from being resolved and Iranian and Turkish interference in the Arab region presents a genuine challenge to Arab states.
Other issues discussed during the meeting included Palestine’s financial burdens, and recent developments in Lebanon.
Iran’s occupation of three Emirati islands and continuing Turkish violations of Iraqi sovereignty were also on the agenda.
The one-day meeting was headed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Al-Hakim and provided an opportunity for bilateral meetings on the sidelines.
AL Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit met with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala to discuss the role the AL could play in settling the crisis in Libya and encouraging the various parties to return to negotiations.
Both officials underlined the significant role Arab states could play in promoting a political settlement to end the ongoing chaos in Egypt’s western neighbour.
Shoukri also held bilateral meetings with his Jordanian and UAE counterparts Ayman Al-Safdi and Anwar Qurqash.
The AL meeting was preceded by the 152nd session of Arab League Council at the level of permanent delegates.
In April’s emergency AL meeting Arab ministers stressed that any settlement of the Palestinian cause must conform to international law and the Arab initiative for peace first presented in 2002. The meeting was convened at the request of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas after Israel claimed sovereignty over the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.
At the meeting the Palestinian government flatly rejected any plan that fails to conform to international law or undermines the right of the Palestinian people to establish a state based on the 1967 borders.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Consolidating a unified position