Wide gap between Arab leaders’ official stands and facts on the ground
London - Arab League leaders meeting in Jordan announced a 15-point communiqué outlining their outlook of the region’s challenges but parts of the Amman Declaration appeared to be detached from reality.
The declaration, read out by Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the end of the Arab summit, focused on the stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Arab leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the two-state solution, expressing readiness to reconcile with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from the land it occupied in 1967, allowing for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The emphasis on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was understood as a rejection of Israel’s proposal for regional normalisation, which it seeks to have before securing a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The declaration reaffirmed the Arab League’s rejection of Israeli measures aimed at altering the identity of Jerusalem, calling on countries not to relocate their embassies to what they consider an occupied city nor recognise it as the capital of Israel. That part was understood to be a message to US President Donald Trump, who expressed an intention to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Critics, however, say the show of solidarity towards Palestinians is played up to mask the disunity of Arab leaders who have little else to agree on publicly.
The second country mentioned in the declaration was Syria, where war has been raging for six years. Arab countries agreed to intensify efforts to find a “peaceful solution” to the crisis, which affects all segments of the Syrian population, while preserving the country’s unity and independence.
The declaration added that “there is no military solution” and called for the eradication of “all terrorist groups” there. The statement itself will most likely be understood differently by the various Arab countries that back rival factions in Syria. Critics say it is meaningless as Arab leaders will continue to support opposing sides.
The declaration pledged support for the Geneva peace process, calling it “the only framework for a peaceful solution” in Syria, although it also paid tribute to the importance of the Astana talks in establishing a ceasefire. Giving priority to Geneva over Astana could be because two of the three main players in the latter — Russia and Iran — are staunch supporters of the Syrian regime, which Arab League heavyweight Saudi Arabia is opposed to.
The third prominent player in Astana is Turkey but Ankara, an ally of Riyadh, is seen as too weak to determine the direction of the Syria endgame, as Turkey has become too preoccupied with terrorism from the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to focus on countering the Syrian regime.
Arab leaders also called on the international community to support countries that host Syrian refugees, an apparent reference to Jordan and Lebanon.
Similar to the general statement on Syria, Arab leaders affirmed their backing for national reconciliation as a solution to the crisis in Libya, which is facing the threat of terrorism. As in Syria, different Arab countries support rival factions there and some countries are opposed to the UN-sponsored agreement developed in Skhirat, Morocco.
Arab countries pledged full support to Iraq in its war against ISIS “terrorist gangs” in Mosul, stressing that the country’s security and stability are linked to that of the entire region. The declaration praised Iraq’s military victories against ISIS and expressed support for Baghdad’s efforts to achieve national reconciliation.
The statement appears to echo a recent Saudi effort to draw Iraq back to its Arab orbit, away from the influence of Iran. Such a move, however, appears to be unlikely in the near future as decision-making in Baghdad is strongly linked to Tehran.
Iran itself was mentioned only once, when Arab leaders called on Tehran to give back the three UAE islands it occupies.
However, an indirect reference to Iran was made when the declaration denounced foreign “interference” in Arab internal affairs designed to destabilise the region and promote sectarianism. Arab leaders also vowed to support the “legitimate leadership” of Yemen, which is battling the Tehran-backed Houthi rebels.
A prominent supporter of the Houthis is the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah, which is allied with President Michel Aoun and has become an established political force in Lebanon.
Mention of Lebanon was absent from the declaration, although five former Lebanese presidents sent a joint letter calling on the summit to reject Hezbollah’s use of arms in the country.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a rival of Hezbollah, was spotted flying with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Riyadh, signalling that Saudi Arabia has not given up on Lebanon, despite Beirut’s falling under the orbit of Iran.
The declaration on two occasions expressed support for human rights and democracy, while rejecting the “darkness” of extremism.
The statement appears to reflect the general yearning for peace and stability after years of upheaval, a sentiment expressed by most of the region’s leaders, the latest being the emir of Kuwait, who blasted the “Arab spring”. As is the case with other pronouncements during the summit, it remains to be seen how that commitment to peace and stability will be achieved.