At Tunis summit, Arab leaders condemn US decision on Golan

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said any resolution to the Syrian conflict must guarantee the territorial integrity of Syria, "including the occupied Golan Heights."
Sunday 31/03/2019
Saudi  King Salman bin Abdulaziz (L), Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C),and Jordan's King Abdullah II, pose for a group photograph with other Arab leaders during the 30th Arab League summit. (AFP)
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (L), Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C),and Jordan's King Abdullah II, pose for a group photograph with other Arab leaders during the 30th Arab League summit. (AFP)

TUNIS - Arab leaders, meeting in Tunis on Sunday for their annual summit, condemned the US's decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and said Middle East stability depended on creating a Palestinian state.

Arab leaders have been under popular pressure to reject the move by Washington, while they also grapple with war in Syria and Yemen, the ongoing crisis in Libya, Iran andTurkey’s regional influence and unrest in Algeria and Sudan.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud told Arab monarchs, presidents and prime ministers at the meeting that his country "absolutely rejects" any measures affecting Syria's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation last week recognising the Golan Heights as part of Israel, which annexed the area in 1981 after capturing it from Syria in 1967.

The Saudi king's condemnation echoed those of Arab officials before Sunday's Arab League summit, which will end with a final declaration agreed to by the 22 member states.

Trump's Golan decision followed a US move less than four months ago to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which also drew Arab condemnation. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said Arab leaders also needed to ensure the international community understood the importance of the Palestinian cause to Arab nations.

Regional and international stability should come through "a just and comprehensive settlement that includes the rights of the Palestinian people and leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," Caid Essebsi said.

However, Arab experts are unsure what action Arab leaders can take beyond condemning Trump’s move. Some have speculated they could dispatch a high level delegation to Washington to highlight the extent of their opposition to the US's position on the Golan and Jerusalem. 

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who will be hosted at the White House on April 9, is also expected to discuss Middle East issues with the US president.

King Salman, whose country has long vied with Iran for influence, called to confront the "aggressive policies of the Iranian regime." He said Iran was interfering in Arab affairs, a charge Tehran dismisses.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also addressed the meeting in Tunis, said any resolution to the Syrian conflict must guarantee the territorial integrity of Syria, "including the occupied Golan Heights."

The Tunis summit brought together the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the first time since 2017 when Riyadh and its allies imposed a political and economic boycott on Doha.

Syria's seat at the summit was vacant. Damascus has been suspended from the Arab League since 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of its civil war. The League has said no consensus has yet been reached on whether to reinstate Syria.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Sunday that ignoring United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Golan Heights was "not a solution."

Mogherini also told leaders at the summit that a two state solution for Israel and Palestine was "the only viable and realistic solution" and that "we have a responsibility to prevent the two state solution from being irreversibly dismantled."

"Any future plan will have to recognise the internationally agreed parameters including on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, and the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of the two states."

The Arab summit convened Sunday morning with the participation of Arab states except Syria amid strict security conditions and a well choreographed programme.

About 1100 reporters are covering the summit.