File Photo: 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
Arab leaders are scheduled to meet in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for the 29th Arab Summit, with the expectations of passing resolutions on various regional issues which confirm previously declared stances.
However, the event itself will offer an opportunity for Arab leaders to hold smaller meetings on the sidelines of the summit to discuss and coordinate on a wide range of issues, including how to move forward on Syria, how to handle the tense situation in Gaza, and what to do about Libya.
The annual meeting comes one day the US, UK and France launched missile strikes against targets in Syria on Saturday in a move announced by the three Western countries as retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad against innocent civilians a week ago.
The reported chemical attack is said to have killed over 75 civilians, including children.
France and the US said they had evidence of the attack having been executed by the Assad regime, while Russia said it was an act orchestrated by foreign intelligence agents with the aim of undermining the regime in Damascus.
Most members of the influential Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, the host of Sunday's summit, openly supported the missile strikes.
On Saturday evening, Kuwait, the current Arab member of the UN Security Council, voted against a draft resolution proposed by Russia that was designed to condemn the strikes, which were conducted without a UN Security Council resolution.
For its part, Egypt issued a statement that all but rejected the strikes.
Shortly after President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday afternoon to take part in the summit, the Egyptian foreign ministry issued a statement expressing “concern over the escalation in Syria” and called for a political solution there.
The Egyptian statement was echoed by another from Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul-Gheit who had headed the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Riyadh on Friday.
The chief Arab diplomat blamed “all the parties” in the Syria conflict for “the deterioration” of the situation.
A draft resolution, which was adopted by the Arab foreign ministers, called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria that would preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the havoc-ridden Arab state.
It underlined the need to suspend foreign intervention in the affairs of the Arab country – with a direct reference to the recent Turkish intervention in Syria.
The Arab summit is likely to adopt the Arab foreign ministers draft resolution without considerable changes, according to an informed Arab source.
With the current division in views among Arab countries on the question of support for and opposition to the Assad regime, the source argued, it is very hard to expect anything beyond an acknowledgment of the conflict and the call for a negotiated settlement that would maintain the territorial integrity of the country.
The rapid developments on the Syrian front, which started with an attack against civilians in Douma last Monday, aborted a shy attempt by some Arab capitals to propose the need for the gradual re-integration of Syria in the Arab League.
In the spring of 2011, the Arab League suspended Syria's participation in the meetings of the pan-Arab organisation to protest the mass-killings by the Syrian regime of participants in the early democracy movement, which started in Syria in March 2011 in the heyday of the Arab Spring.
Apart from Syria, Arab leaders are expected to address 17 other items on the summit's agenda. Those include developments in Libya and Yemen – two states where the Arab Spring had regressed firmly into a civil war, with considerable foreign intervention.
On Libya, the summit is expected to adopt a resolution calling for a political settlement. UN Envoy on Libya Ghassan Salame is already in Saudi Arabia and has briefed Arab foreign ministers on progress made in his work to promote a negotiated settlement that could reassemble the fragmented North African country.
As the Saudi summit convenes, the prospects for the political management of the situation in Libya were far from clear, with Khalifa Haftar, the military leader supported by leading Arab countries as a potential head of state, receiving treatment for a stroke in Paris.
On Yemen, the summit seems likely to pass a resolution that has already been adopted by the Arab foreign ministers, expressing support for "constitutional legitimacy" as the only way to end the civil conflict there.
For more than three years, Saudi Arabia has been leading a military-coalition effort in Yemen to eliminate the power of the Iran-supported Houthi groups that oppose the Yemeni government. The resolution condemned the Iranian intervention in Yemen as hampering a peaceful settlement in the country.
The Arab summit is also expected to adopt a resolution on the Palestinian issue. The resolution is set to underline the central nature of the Palestinian cause and to insist that East Jerusalem is the capital of the future Palestinian state.
The year-old conflict between the four Arab states - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt - on the one hand, and Qatar on the other hand, is unlikely to be settled in the summit, which is convening under the mantra of "Arab reunion".
The foreign ministers of the four states in conflict with Doha met in Riyadh on Friday to follow up on their diplomatic coordination against Qatar. After the crisis began in June last year, Kuwait tried to provide mediation, but it is not expected to try to use the summit to rekindle its reconciliation efforts.
According to an Arab League source, the most that is expected of the summit on this issue is for the Emir of Qatar to arrive at the summit, to take part in its deliberations and to leave without any further escalation.
Both the Emir of Qatar and the influential crown prince of Saudi Arabia have been in the US recently. And both, according to an American source, were asked by the White House to refrain from exacerbating regional tensions with an aggravated dilemma in the Arab Gulf.