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Mere words not to bring freedom
By Musa Keilani April 03, 2010
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ANOTHER annual gathering of Arab countries came and went, with the only fancy this time being that it was held in Libya hosted by Muammar Qadhafi. In terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the outcome of the summit was not much different from past such meetings. The Arab leaders issued the usual condemnation of Israel’s moves that are designed to create facts on the ground to deny the Palestinians their legitimate rights. The summit leaders also referred to the 2002 Arab peace initiative and said it remained very much alive if Israel wants genuine peace with the Arabs.

The meeting in Sirte also pledged to set up a $500 million fund to help the Palestinians living in occupied Arab Jerusalem to protect the holy city from Judaisation.

Clearly, everyone knows well that words of support and a few million dollars are not really going to help the Palestinians realise their objective of setting up an independent state with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital. They need concerted and collective Arab action on the international scene along with other supporters of the Palestinian cause to make a real difference to the status quo, which rests with Israel refusing to budge from rejection of a fair and just peace agreement.

The Arab shortcoming here does not mean that the Arab governments are opposed to the idea of an independent Palestinian state. In fact, creation of such a state would be of great relief to the Arab World since it would also remove a persistent source of tension, worry and concern for the Arabs. However, Arab governments are too tied down by their own considerations, including external pressures, and own interests to undertake effective action to advance the quest for peace in Palestine.

The result is a natural wariness among the Arabs while dealing with the Palestinian cause. They are aware that they unable to make a real difference under the given geopolitics and appear to have given up hope for peace in Palestine based on the rights of the Palestinian people. If anything, they seem to have left it to fate — and possibly a miracle — for the Palestinian struggle to arrive at an acceptable, reasonable and logical conclusion.

Indeed, hopes of a light at the end of the tunnel have been revived with the strong stand taken by US President Barack Obama.

Those hopes had received a setback late last year when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stared down the US president and rejected demands for a total freeze in settlement construction in the occupied territories. However, things came to a head-on collision last month when the hard-line Israeli coalition government pressed the issue further and announced plans for more construction of settlements in the occupied eastern half of Jerusalem even as US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting.

That was the chance that Obama appeared to have been waiting for. Calling the announcement during the Biden visit as an open snub and insult as well as a serious question about Israel’s commitment to its “strategic relationship” with the US, the Obama administration is maintaining pressure on Netanyahu to implement a few measures in order to lift the logjam in the way of renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

It was in view of Obama’s moves that the Sirte summit called on the US president not to soften on his demand on Israel to freeze all settlement construction activities in the occupied territories.

The final summit declaration reaffirmed an “absolute rejection” of Israel’s policy of building houses for Jewish settlers in the occupied territories and called on the US and the European Union not to accept such measures and policies.

Obama is said to be demanding a four-month freeze of settlement construction — plus the release of some Palestinian prisoners and easing of the choking Israeli blockade of the occupied territories — in return for a Palestinian agreement to resume immediate direct talks rather than “proximity” talks as was agreed before last month’s developments leading to the deadlock.

The Arab leaders know well that Netanyahu is unlikely to comply with Obama’s demands even if he wanted to in view of the hawkish line adopted by his partners in the coalition government. At stake for Netanyahu is survival of the coalition since it is clear that it partners would call it quits if he crossed some “red lines” they have set in dealing with the Palestinians. For the Shaas party, Netanyahu’s acceptance of negotiations on the status of occupied Jerusalem will be enough to leave the coalition.

Netanyahu has the option of dismantling the coalition and patching up a new one, bringing in the Kadima opposition party and retaining the Labour party as well as left-leaning groups. Continued American pressure could force Netanyahu, who has a survival instinct, to exercise that option. But that does not advance prospects for peace since Netanyahu could put up an act and go along with peace talks but without yielding anything to the Palestinians.

 Now that the Arab summit is over, the Arab governments are relieved. They have done what they thought could be done — as usual — and there is not much to be done except to condemn Israeli moves in the weeks and months ahead while hoping against hope that Obama will be successful in resisting internal political pressure to spare Israel and target Iran for military action.

Not much to show for an Arab summit that was held at a most crucial time for the Palestinian cause. But it should not be surprising, given that it is the established pattern of Arab behaviour.

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