Arab nations show depth of divisions at summit of irrelevance

Click to follow
The Independent Online

With the Middle East facing possible catastrophe, Arab leaders gathered in Cairo yesterday for a summit of supreme irrelevance that will only prove yet again how divided are the Arab nations.

With the Middle East facing possible catastrophe, Arab leaders gathered in Cairo yesterday for a summit of supreme irrelevance that will only prove yet again how divided are the Arab nations.

Syria wants the Arab states to break diplomatic relations with Israel, Palestine would like a state, while the Egyptians - in the immortal and irrelevant words of their Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa - aim to "mobilise the Arabs' capabilities".

It was a sign of Arab impotence that the rumours discussed by delegates in private were more important than their public words. There were stories that the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, had already briefed his generals on a battle to retake the Palestinian-held cities of the West Bank while a report from London suggested that a senior Israeli diplomat was to be dispatched to the Foreign Office next week to explain Israel's military decisions.

Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, heads for Cairo with a file full of proposals from Palestinian groups. At least one organisation is urging him to give a final date for the declaration of a state and to demand a multilateral peace-keeping force inside the West Bank and Gaza.

Ironically, there are members of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine who would like US troops to be in any international force - because American soldiers would be responsible for controlling their Israeli allies. When US troops first manned the Beirut perimeter after Israel's 1982 siege, there were daily confrontations between American and Israeli officers.

Mr Arafat's mind, however, is likely to be concentrated more on his own precarious military situation than on diplomacy. Many Palestinians suspect the real aim of last week's helicopter-gunship attacks by Israel was to test Mr Arafat's armoury - to find out whether he has any anti-aircraft missiles or armour-piercing weapons. "Arafat told his people not to respond," one of his senior officers in Beirut said yesterday. "He wasn't going to show the Israelis what he might have."

Farouk al-Shara, the Syrian Foreign Minister, has called on the Arab League to raise funds "for the intifada" but insisted that Syria was not calling for war. "We are for a just and global peace, not a peace of compromise," Mr al-Shara said.

But Egypt and Jordan, with full peace treaties with Israel, are not going to break diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv because the likes of Yemen's President would support a conflict. As usual, the Palestinians will be on their own. Unless, of course, the Saudis - embittered by America's failure to secure what they see as a just peace - decide to turn to the oil weapon.

Comments