Monday, April 7, 2008

Summit shows Arabs are paralyzed by indecision

By Sabria S. Jawhar

The Saudi Gazette

When was the last time the Arab Summit actually accomplished something?

Try six years ago when Arab leaders approved the Peace Initiative in Beirut. Since then there has been little that has been positive from these summits. Just plenty of bickering and petty arguments.

If I sound frustrated, well I'm sure that most of the 400 million Arabs across the Gulf countries feel the same. In 2002 we demonstrated unity with the historic peace proposal that would give Israel recognition in exchange for a return to its pre-1967 borders.

Certainly it's frustrating to see apathetic Israeli leaders squander this opportunity for lasting peace in the Middle East and to ease the pain and oppression of the Palestinians, but the proposal reflects well on the Arab League's 22 heads of state.

Unfortunately the very thing that we can take credit for that the United States and the European Union failed to do is now in danger. Delegates at the summit made the suggestion that perhaps it's best to reconsider the Peace Initiative. And it seemed to have gained traction through the two-day meeting.

But the Palestinian delegation urged Arab nations to stand by the proposal.

"The Arab Peace Initiative is a political stance that should not be wavered... If we pull out this initiative we would be doing Israel a favor," said Nimer Hammad, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just as the the Damascus summit was getting underway. And Abbas has said that despite the Gaza crisis it's still possible for the Palestinians and Israelis to make peace before the end of the year.

Let's consider for a moment this reevaluation of the Peace Initiative. Do we have something better to put on the table? If we are going to withdraw the proposal, what will be put in its place? War? This is the problem with these half-baked ideas that seem to play in the hands of Israel and the United States.

We mumble threats like children when Israel is too lazy to sit at the table and discuss the peace proposal, so I suppose we just take our ball and go home. All that does is give Israel another victory and point fingers at us that we are nothing more than a bunch of quarrelsome Arabs who can't make up our minds of what to do. But having said that, Israel needs to quit waffling and either accept or reject the initiative or be willing to sit at the negotiation table.

We also managed to be lectured by none other than Muammar Qaddafi for our inability to make a decision or organize united front. As usual he was at his colorful best by warning Arab leaders that their countries will be “marginalized and turn into garbage dumps” if we don't get our act together.

Syrian leaders should be held accountable for some of this mess. First, they managed to anger most of their neighbors by meddling in Lebanese affairs. It brought a US warship off the coast of Lebanon. In all, 10 of the Arab League's 22 members stayed home. So even if the ridiculous effort to rethink the Peace Initiative wasn't considered, little would have been accomplished as it is because no one was there to take a leadership position and effect a meaningful agenda.

For instance, we've been told that all sorts of resolutions have been passed. But anybody name just one that means a thing?

This is old news for us who pay attention to this continuing soap opera. Egypt was frozen out of the Arab League for 10 years after it signed a peace agreement with Israel. And through the '90s summits were held only twice. Then in what can only be considered irony, Arab League members decided in 2000 to hold the meetings annually to foster greater unity. The effort started on an optimistic note, and 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan only brought Arab leaders closer to seriously dealing with the region's problems. The 2002 Peace Initiative proved that. But as the crisis in the region grows to epic proportions – the Gaza tragedy, Iraq's occupation, Saddam Hussein's execution, threatening US rhetoric against Iran, Islamophobia – we are paralyzed by indecision.

The only distinction this summit had over the other unimpressive meetings is that it only served to widen the gap between Syria and other Arab nations because of Syria's poor behavior. But we can ill-afford to be so fractious. There will come a time when Syria's neighbors must decide whether they will continue to permit this kind of conduct that further divides the region.

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