Arab leaders opened a two-day summit in the Algerian capital on Tuesday to discuss a 17-point agenda, including a resolution to revive a 2002 peace plan with Israel that the latter has already rejected.
Only 13 Arab heads of state or rulers out of the 22-member Arab League are expected to attend the summit. Several leaders, including Jordan’s King Abdullah, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Lebanese president Emile Lahoud and most of the Gulf states leaders, will skip the summit.
Several foreign dignitaries were present at the opening ceremony, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero addressed the summit to garner Arab support for his plan to create an ”alliance of civilisations” to defeat terrorism and bring Western and Arab nations closer together, AFP reported. He also noted the need to solve the Palestinian problem.
The leader of the host country, Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stressed in his speech on Tuesday “The Arab world’s recovery depends on” establishing a Palestinian state and the recovery of the Arab lands occupied by Israel. Bouteflika warmly welcomed the presence of Palestinian Presidenrt Mahmoud Abbas, saying that normalization with Israel is conditioned by the withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied Arab territories and its abiding by the "road map." He urged Arab countries to show solidarity with the Palestinian "brotherly" people as long as Israel continues to practice its excessive policy against the Palestinians.
On his part, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said Tuesday in his speech that Israel should not expect Arab nations to normalize ties "without anything in return." Moussa added Israel expects that "Arabs will make concessions and even normalize without anything real in return. This shouldn't be." "It should be commitment for commitment," he said.
In fact, the ties with Israel sparked a dispute between the Arab states during the preparatory discussions ahead of the summit.
“Jordan presented a document aiming at reactivating, promoting and marketing the Arab initiative for peace, by submitting a precise and concise form,” Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki told AFP ahead of the meetings. “This document was examined by the delegates who introduced a few additions in a way to please everybody and this is what was adopted,” he said, referring to objections that had been made in the run-up to the summit.
The three-point draft offers Israel the chance to normalise ties with the Arab countries in exchange for a total pullout from land it conquered in 1967 and later annexed.
It also insists that an independent Palestinian state and a solution to guarantee the rights of Palestinian refugees were essential to peace with Israel.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas reminded Israel that peace commitments are a two-way street. "We tell Israel we are committed to the roadmap and agreements reached in Sharm el-Sheikh and we hope that these commitments are reciprocal," said Abbas.
Arab leaders are also expected to agree on setting up a pan-Arab parliament and dicuss how best they should push ahead with a pledge they took last year to speed up democratic reforms. In this relation, sources in the Algeria capital said that after the morning session the king of Morocco told a closed-door meeting that Arab reforms were "more than ever necessary" to confront political and economic challenges facing the region and help end foreign occupation.
"We must free our nation from our weakness and impotence and restore its strength and assurance," Mohamed VI said, according to AFP.