ARAB LEAGUE: GROUP WITH A LONG HISTORY OF SUPPORT FOR THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE
In 1946, Egypt’s young ruler King Farouk declared in an emergency meeting of regional leaders – effectively the predecessor to the Arab League – that the Jewish insurgency in Palestine was a pan-Arab issue.
More than 70 years later, six of the countries that attended the emergency meeting in Cairo were joined on Sunday by 15 other Arab states to discuss the same concern at the 29th Arab League Summit.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced a US$200 million (Dh734.6m) commitment to the Palestinians – $150m for the maintenance of the religious administration that oversees the Al Aqsa Mosque compound and $50m for the programmes of the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees.
King Salman’s donation to the Palestinians is a step in the right direction but it is unlikely to be enough to combat Israel’s growing footprint in Palestine.
Since that first meeting, the Israeli presence in Palestine has developed from an insurgency to full-blown occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Part of the Arab League’s reaction has always been reluctant tolerance of Israel’s flouting of UN sanctions.
For decades, Israel has had little regard for agreements or accords that the international community has passed in attempts to hold it to account.
If it continues to ignore hundreds of UN resolutions condemning its policies, it is unlikely to concern itself with statements from an international summit comprised mostly of countries that do not even recognise its existence.
Nonetheless, the Arab League has served as a continuous reminder of the Palestinian cause on the international stage.
The first official Arab League summit was held, again in Egypt, in 1964, convened by Gamal Abdel Nasser, then Egyptian president and godfather of Pan-Arabism.
At that meeting, the Arab League formally approved the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, a cause dear to the former Egyptian general’s vision of a unified Arab state. Three years later, it convened again after defeat to Israel in the 1967 war, establishing the policy that famously stated: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.”
Since that meeting, the situation in Israel and Palestine has challenged the status quo of what became to be known as the “Three Nos”.
Of the 22 nations in the Arab League, three recognise Israel. Reports of negotiations between Arab countries and Israel have also been historically documented.
The policy of the “Three Nos” would change fundamentally in 2002. The league adopted the Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi-led proposed resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that sought to normalise relations between the sides of the conflict.
This was a far cry from the initial Arab League charter of 1951 that committed all members to treat acts of aggression on any member state as an act against all.
As Israel has become more entrenched in the region, so too have Palestinian expectations of their Arab partners in regard to the conflict.
The onus of addressing Palestinian concerns, today more so than ever, has been pulled to the forefront of Arab political concern. According to the leaders present at the meeting in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran, the Arab League could be used as a platform to finally resolve the issue.
Whether that is a two-state solution, or a boycott of Israel, the 22-nation bloc finds itself in an awkward position where it needs to take action.
A fund to help the daily lives of Palestinians is a start. But more importantly, as the Israeli-Palestinian issue unravels into a deeper political and diplomatic stand-off, the weight of the Arab countries must be thrown behind its Arab neighbour.
Today, almost every leader of the 21 nations at the summit condemned Washington’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Whether that declaration has any effect on the move remains unlikely.
King Salman pledged $200m to Palestinians at the latest meeting of the pan-Arab body
Troops on parade in Saudi Arabia at the conclusion of the Common Gulf Shield Exercise 1