On the road to Amman

Dina Ezzat , Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 28 Mar 2017

Subdued as it might be, the Arab summit promises success for Jordan in advancing its diplomatic agenda

a general view of the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers during the 28th Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, south of the Jordanian capital Amman (AFP)

On Monday, as Arab foreign ministers were finalizing their set of traditional resolutions for the consideration of the 28th Arab Summit, which starts in Jordan on Wednesday, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz arrived to meet with his Jordanian counterpart King Abdullah, who will host and chair the summit through the coming year.

The early arrival of the Saudi monarch is untypical of the participation of the head of the oil rich nation, especially since Riyadh is seen today in many world capitals as perhaps the most influential Arab capital.

Salman’s early arrival, according to an Arab League source, is not about the Arab summit but rather about the growing diplomatic coordination between Riyadh and Amman.

Upon the arrival of Salman in Jordan, a generous Saudi assistance package was announced. And in a thorough meeting, the two monarchs were reported to have formulated the full outcome of the summit and its sideline meetings, according to the same source.

“There have been intensive consultations between Amman and Riyadh during the past few weeks in the lead up to the summit week, and there is full agreement between the two leaders about what the summit will come up with on the issues that are key to both sides,” the source said.

The Amman summit is not really expected to adopt any revolutionary resolutions – and this is particularly compatible with the guidelines of Saudi and Jordanian diplomacy.

Neither capitals, according to Cairo-based Arab diplomats, seem to see much room for breakthroughs on any of the many-layered Arab hotspots. And neither wish to rock the boat.

A key issue for Saudi Arabia that Jordanian diplomacy made sure to secure in the lead up to the summit relates to the text of the resolution to be adopted on Yemen, the civil-war-wrecked country that Riyadh considers its uncontested domain of political hegemony.

The Arab Summit is set to adopt a resolution that would underline implicit support for the Saudi war in Yemen, isolating the Houthi factions that are perceived as having close ties with Iran due to their joint Shia affiliation.

Saudi Arabia is also confident about suppressing an Iraqi political manoeuvre to move toward ending the six-year-long suspension of Syrian participation in the activities of the pan-Arab organization. The suspension began during the early days of the now-suffocated Arab Spring in 2011, when calls for democracy began in Syria.

Jordan has agreed to the Saudi line on this point, even though Amman is said by the same Arab diplomats to favour opening the door for the return of Syria “just like Egypt and Algeria”, as one put it.

The Jordanians saw Saudi Arabia's clear veto on the matter during the regular spring meeting of Arab foreign ministers at the headquarters of the Arab League in early March.

They also saw that there was not enough political stamina on the part of either Cairo or Algeria to be forthcoming on the matter. “So they decided to accommodate the Saudi wish, especially since there are no guarantees really about how the Syrians would react to any initiative to bring back” the regime of Bashar Al-Assad to the Arab League.

“I mean, in the midst of the so many issues that the Arab world has to deal with, including IS, the refugees, the situation in Libya and the Palestinian cause, who needs a political scene whereby Bashar would send an envoy to attack the Saudis and Qataris for trying to support the Syrian opposition?” the same Arab diplomat said.

Moreover, according to the Arab League source, the Jordanian delegation has ensured that the draft of the resolution on Iran is firm enough in denouncing the "intervention" of Tehran in the affairs of Arab countries.

But it is not only the Saudis that the Jordanians are accommodating at this summit. Amman is also accommodating the wish of the countries of North Africa, especially Algeria and Tunis  - with the support of Qatar – to see Fayez Al-Saraj, head of the UN-backed government, attend the summit as Libya's representative.

This is, of course, a big blow to the expectations of the east-Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar who was positioning himself to execute a political elimination of Al-Seraj.

“I think that the Jordanians are very well aware of the current tension between Haftar and Cairo over the decision of Haftar to act on the ground without close coordination with Egypt. And I think that Egypt did not mind to use the Arab Summit to send Haftar a message that it could withdraw some of its support that he might have taken for granted,” said an Amman-based European diplomat.

At the same time, Jordan has engaged in intense diplomacy, along with Kuwait and the UAE, to grant Egypt a much-wanted reconciliation – cold as it is expected to be – with Saudi Arabia.

Washington-based Arab diplomats say that this was conducted in coordination with the US, which has made it clear for the leading Sunni countries – especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia – that they need to put aside their differences and focus on preparing for coordinated action against IS.

At the same time, Jordan has acted in cooperation with the UAE to secure a meeting last week in Cairo between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. The meeting was aimed at easing tensions between the two leaders that started with conflicting views on how to handle the Palestinian cause.

Abbas had flatly declined a plan to jump-start peace talks that Egypt and Jordan were considering with Israel during the last few weeks of the rule of former US President Barack Obama. The plan conflicted with the Palestinian position that the resumption of the long-stalled talks should be conditional on the willingness of Israel to honour an international obligation to suspend the construction of illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

In Amman, Abbas will get exactly the resolution he is hoping for: “to renew commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative” while offering “support for the steadfastness of the Palestinian people.”

Egypt had hoped to open the door for the amendment of the peace-talks initiative, but it has not insisted much, at least for now.

The Amman summit is unlikely to produce earthshaking resolutions on any of the tangled Arab problems. However, it will successfully position its host as a leading mediator in the midst of Arab tensions and assert the wish of the Jordanian monarch for his country to play a central role in almost every one of the complicated Arab issues.

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