Arab leaders focus on Iran threat, reviving peace plan

Sunday 02/04/2017
Jordanian King Abdullah II attends the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh, on March 29th. (AFP)

London - Arab leaders concluded their summit in Amman with a declaration that appears to include mes­sages to US President Donald Trump, reiterating their plan for a Middle East peace deal and apprehension about Iran.
The closing statement of the March 29th summit was heavily focused on reviving the Israeli-Pal­estinian peace process, with Jorda­nian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi saying: “The summit has ended with a message of peace.”
Jordanian King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are to meet with Trump in April, with the stalled Middle East peace process expected to top the agenda.
Arab leaders have expressed con­cerns that the Trump administra­tion is showing less commitment to the two-state solution than previ­ous US governments and have been lobbying to dissuade Washington from abandoning the road map for an independent Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 war borders.
“The US administration of Presi­dent Donald Trump is seriously considering a solution to the Pal­estinian issue,” Abbas told Agence France-Presse following the sum­mit.
Trump’s special envoy for inter­national negotiations, Jason Green­blatt, who attended the summit, said the US president believed that an Israeli-Palestinian deal “is not only possible but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world”. Greenblatt, how­ever, added that a deal could not be imposed.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yis­rael Katz focused less on the Arab peace plan, which would require an Israeli withdrawal from land it occupies, and more on the need to prioritise the “strategic regional challenges”.
Israel wants normalisation of ties with the Arab world, citing the need to combat mutual threats such as Iran and the Islamic State (ISIS), be­fore agreeing on a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Israel promises instead an improvement of the liv­ing conditions of Palestinians under occupation.
Most Arab leaders, however, would likely find it difficult to break from the strongly held public view that concessions to Israel should only come when Palestinians gain their rights, not before.
This means that the Arab leaders would have to look elsewhere to counter the threat from Iran, which the Amman declaration denounced — without naming Tehran — as in­terfering in internal Arab affairs, destabilising the region and pro­moting sectarianism.
Iran denied the implied Arab ac­cusation with its Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi saying that Tehran “does not need to inter­vene in the domestic affairs of other countries and always abides by the principles of good neighbourliness and respect for the sovereignty of governments”.
In Washington, US Army Gen­eral Joseph Votel, the commander of US Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that Iran and its proxies were at the heart of many of problems in the Middle East.
“It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stabil­ity in this part of the world,” he said.
“We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities,” Votel added. “We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them account­able for the things that they are do­ing.”