Just another coffee shop? The history of the Arab League and 'project' Palestine

Published November 21st, 2012 - 17:04 GMT

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Arab League in its formative years, 1945
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Image 1 of 12: Inception of the Arab club: It began on the Palestine question and keeps coming back to it. Formed in Cairo on 22 March 1945 with six members, the Arab League (AL) soon fleshed out to admit the other Arab brethren. The AL currently furnishes 22 members, including Syria, whose participation was suspended in 2011.

Boats for Palestine
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Image 1 of 12: Palestinian armada or call to arms: Considered to be a failure on the Palestine problem- particularly on the ethnic cleansing in 1947-1948 - the talking shop has to'd and fro'd, bickered and talked the subject to death. The Arab League sent armies to fight Israelis in the 1948 war. Since then, the AL has not wanted to rock the boat on Palestine.

Arab League Cairo 1964
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Image 1 of 12: Cairo consolidates Palestinian agency: At the Cairo Summit of 1964, the Arab League initiated the first Palestinian National Council. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded. Today, Palestine - represented as "The State of Palestine" (previously the PLO) - is a full member of the AL.

Arab League Summit at Beirut 2002
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Image 1 of 12: At the Beirut Summit on 28 March 2002, the League adopted the Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi-inspired peace plan. For normalisation of the relations with Israel, Israel would withdraw from all occupied territories, plus Golan Heights, to recognise Palestinian independence, with East Jerusalem as capital, & a "just solution" for the refugees.

Arab Peace Initiative by the Arab League
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Image 1 of 12: The Peace Initiative was again tabled at 2007 in the Riyadh Summit. The Arab League sent a shuttle mission - of the 'peaceful' Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers - to Israel to promote the initiative. Twice round the block, but still an elusive 'peace', and the initiative now sits in the annals of history with other failed peace plans.

The Arab League considers moving its HQ to Caracas, Venezuela
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Image 1 of 12: Palestine goes to Venezuela: Following the Venezuelan move to expel Israeli diplomats amid the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict, Kuwaiti member of parliament Waleed al-Tabtabai in a moment of Latino love, proposed moving the Arab League headquarters to Caracas.

Amro Moussa Secretary General of the Arab League, 2010
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Image 1 of 12: Breaking barriers: On 13 June 2010, Amr Mohammed Moussa, incumbent Secretary-General of the Arab League, visited the Gaza Strip, the first visit by an official of the Arab League since the election of Hamas in 2007.

Morocco Summit at Casablanca, Arab League
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Image 1 of 12: As many summits as there are opinions on Israel-Palestine have besetted the Arab League: 36 conferences across the Arab-scape - from Amman, Rabat,Tunis, Sharm el-Sheikh, Sirte, to Casablanca and Khartoum, amongst other Middle East hot spots. Emergency summits or planned, there is still no peace and no state for Palestine.

Gulf leaders bicker at the Arab League
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Image 1 of 12: Dressed in robes and riches: Reigning Monarchs and Arab leaders have failed to put their oil money or regal status into action for Palestine. Critics of the forum say that the Arab League is not a union of States working toward a shared goal of Arab solidarity or peace; but that leaders are driven by their respective national agendas.

Morsi stands with Gaza 2012
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Image 1 of 12: A Mubarak with a beard? Morsi stands shoulder to shoulder with Hamas' head Ismail Haniyeh - putting strain on Egypt's peace treaty with Israel - but will it come to much? Egypt, the heart of the Arab world, has also been at the heart of efforts to engage a truce. Much like Mubarak, he plays mediator between the US, Israel & Palestine.

Hamad Bin Khalifa of Qatar speaks to the Arab League
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Image 1 of 12: The Qatar solution: getting by with a little help from the Arabs: The Qatari PM voiced angry criticism of the AL saying "Our meetings have become a waste of money and a waste of time." Qatar's emir said that Israel should lift its siege of Gaza. Emir Hamad al-Thani also said Israel would not halt its offensive unless it met strong resistance.

Hassan Nasrallah
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Image 1 of 12: Hassan Nasrallah does not mince his words with the Arab tribes: This week, the pan-Arab Hezbollah visionary told Arabs to get off their back-sides about Gaza. Nasrallah lashed out at Arab governments for their lack of action over the Strip. His scathing attack did not spare the Qatari PM for slating the Arab League as 'sheep'.

As news of a ceasefire between the warring sides of Israel and Gaza breaks in this latest pillar of 'Defense', the Arab League is distinctly absent. The shuttle diplomacy that came about between Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was in the end  brokered by Egypt's Morsi who guaranteed that Wednesday night's truce would hold. It was Egypt, acting independently of its Arab friends sat in the 'League', that rescued their Palestinian brothers in the eleventh hour- when it looked likely that Israel would go on a rampage in response to a Tel Aviv bus attack. Some might ask where was the Arab League?

There are 22 member countries of the League of Arab States (its friends just call it "the Arab League", or sometimes just "League" for short), but it seems that the problems of one in particular have been the overarching sore point since the whole mess began: Palestine. Resolving the "crisis in Palestine" has been at the heart of everything the League has wanted to do since that self-same crisis began, in 1948, not long after the Arab League (AL) was formed. Yet it has just not been able to do anything. One glaring example of the impotence of the Arab League was seen when Netanyahu was first elected to the Israeli premiership, in 1996. The most remarkable achievement of the summit of the heads of Arab states--as far as could be seen from the media coverage--was the beautiful floral decorations at the meeting table. 

Of course, it might not be the fault of the "League" per se, but most clearly a reflection of the shambolic nature of its constituent Arab states. It was only at times when some of those states had strong, effective leadership, was it possible for any of them to do anything--such as when Egypt helped create the Palestine Liberation Organization, which produced Yasser Arafat and a revolution.

The current crisis for Palestine - Israel's offensive, Pillar of Defense - saw the Arab League respond quite slowly. Israel's aerial operation started on a Wednesday, while the Arab League decided to hold an "emergency meeting" in Cairo on Saturday. Officials from the AL organised a formal visit to Gaza for Tuesday (yesterday), several days after ministers from several countries had independently checked in at the Strip already.

The short meeting on Saturday - a talking shop at best - lead to official condemnation of Israel's actions, but no concrete response. 

Everyone spoke of a ceasefire, a truce, plenty of humanitarian assistance, but there was distinctly no mention of active resistance to the Israeli siege of Gaza.

For many, the impression remains that the Arab League has sold Palestine down the river because of the international risks of rocking the boat. It remains to be seen whether this reputation of ineffectuality can be shaken.

 

What do you think of the Arab League: Share your candid views on the Arab 'United Nations'.

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