Saudi Ara­bia is well placed to forge a se­cure fu­ture for the Arab League

The National - News - - OPINION -

There were no sur­prises in the fi­nal com­mu­nique of the Arab League Sum­mit in Saudi Ara­bia. The re­al­ity is that the chal­lenges of fac­ing this re­gion are well known – and the calls for so­lu­tions are not new. How­ever, the Sum­mit marked an im­por­tant mo­ment for Saudi Ara­bia – and with it the Arab world – in fram­ing what its lead­ers con­sider the most im­por­tant is­sues to ad­dress in the re­gion.

Pales­tinian state­hood, re­solv­ing pro­tracted con­flicts, coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism and push­ing back against Iran’s ex­pan­sion­ist aims in the Mid­dle East. Those four el­e­ments are to­day the big­gest se­cu­rity chal­lenges to the re­gion. And with­out se­cu­rity, lit­tle else can be achieved.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian toll from the wars and con­flicts in a num­ber of Arab coun­tries con­tin­ues to rise, while the largest num­ber of refugees glob­ally re­main in this part of the world.

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ah­mad Al Sabah aptly re­marked that “heavy clouds con­tinue to hang over our re­gion”, call­ing for ac­tion to en­sure the Arab world passes “from the sense of de­spair to one of hope”.

Eco­nomic and cul­tural progress in coun­tries like the United Arab Emi­rates shines a light on what can be achieved with the right com­bi­na­tion of vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship, sta­bil­ity and op­por­tu­nity.

How­ever, not enough of those bea­cons are present to­day.

Saudi King Sal­man bin Ab­del Aziz presided over the Sum­mit in the eastern city of Dhahran, which lasted six hours, with seven­teen heads of gov­ern­ment and state. Be­fore giv­ing the floor to Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, King Sal­man an­nounced that this year’s di­a­logue would be named the “Jerusalem Sum­mit”.

The an­nounce­ment, along with $200 mil­lion in fund­ing for Pales­tine, was a re­minder that the is­sue of Pales­tine, and the plight of its peo­ple, re­main cen­tral to the Arab world. With­out a doubt, the dev­as­ta­tion in Syria, Libya, Ye­men and be­yond has meant that Pales­tine is no longer given the spot­light at ev­ery meet­ing or dis­cus­sion, but it holds its place atop the list of re­gional pri­or­i­ties.

The oc­cup­tion of Pales­tine will con­tinue to pose the great­est threat to any sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East. Mr Ab­bas urged fel­low Arab lead­ers to en­sure Pales­tine’s mem­ber­ship of the UN and to reach out to sup­port the peo­ple of the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries.

Us­ing a fa­mous Arab say­ing, Mr Ab­bas said “vis­it­ing a prisoner is not vis­it­ing his jailer”, in ref­er­ence to the ha­bit­ual Arab avoid­ance of vis­it­ing Pales­tine, in or­der to avoid cross­ing into Is­rael. As the Arab world com­mem­o­rates seventy years since Al Nakba next month and the US pre­pares to move its em­bassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, con­certed Arab ac­tion is vi­tal.

Co-or­di­nated po­si­tions will also be cru­cial to re­alise King Sal­man’s re­peated calls for an Arab se­cu­rity struc­ture to pro­tect the peo­ple and na­tions of the Arab world. Hav­ing a frame­work that en­sures the re­gion’s se­cu­rity is based on mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial agree­ments, rather than proxy wars, is the key to sta­bil­ity – and to coun­ter­ing Iran’s ex­pan­sion­ist en­deav­ours. Tehran’s ac­tions in the re­gion – most po­tent in Syria and Ye­men – can­not be over­looked. 116 mis­siles have been fired at Saudi Ara­bia from Ye­men by Ira­nian-backed Houthis. At the same time, Saudi Ara­bia has in the past month made clear its in­ten­tions, along­side its al­lies, to seek a res­o­lu­tion to the war in Ye­men.

The re­al­ity is that Iran has built its mil­i­tary pres­ence

– not “in­flu­ence” but tan­gi­ble force­ful pres­ence – in sev­eral Arab coun­tries. Ira­nian mili­tia men keep Syria stuck in the quag­mire of war, along with its Rus­sian ally and the bru­tal As­sad regime. Arab lead­ers met in Dhahran only days af­ter the West­ern strikes on Syria.

The re­newed calls at the Arab League Sum­mit for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion in Syria came with sup­port for an in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the use of chem­i­cal weapons in Syria.

With the Rus­sian, Ira­nian and Turk­ish ef­forts to lock out the UN and the Arab world from any durable so­lu­tion, through the As­tana process, it is both in the in­ter­est of the UN and the Arab League to work to­gether for a last­ing so­lu­tion in Syria.

Many Arabs don’t pay much at­ten­tion to Arab League Sum­mits, with de­spon­dency from the lack of progress across the board. Of course Sum­mits, whether for the Arab League, NATO or the United Na­tions, can never pro­vide a so­lu­tion in them­selves. And there can be no deny­ing that the Arab group­ing is weak. How­ever, that weak­ness is a re­flec­tion of the lack of will among cer­tain mem­ber states for true co-oper­a­tion.

Saudi Ara­bia, one of the found­ing mem­bers of the Arab League in 1946, has an op­por­tu­nity to lead the group­ing to­wards a stronger fu­ture. With its force­ful do­mes­tic re­form and in­ter­na­tional clout, the King­dom is well placed to be the force that re­shapes the League at a piv­otal mo­ment.

The oc­cup­tion of Pales­tine will con­tinue to pose the great­est threat to any sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East

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