Just another coffee shop? The history of the Arab League and 'project' Palestine
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? Continue reading below »
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'.