The National / February 8, 2021
First in-person meeting of the group’s foreign ministers in over a year will focus on the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict.
Arab League foreign ministers called for the revival of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and for Israel to resume peace talks at a meeting in Cairo on Monday.
A three-page resolution adopted by the ministers also welcomed Egyptian-led efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation to end years of rivalry between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
It also welcomed last month’s decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold legislative and presidential elections later this year.
Monday’s emergency meeting at the league’s Cairo headquarters was called by Egypt and Jordan, which have jointly drafted the resolution.
Initial comments made at the start of the meeting by Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Palestine suggested that the Palestinian question topped the meeting agenda.
In some ways, the meeting appeared to be partially an attempt to disavow steps taken by the administration of former US President Donald Trump and which angered Arab nations. These included recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the US Embassy there and halting funds to the UN aid agency dedicated to the Palestinians, UNRWA.
It also comes less than a month after President Joe Biden succeeded Mr Trump, raising hopes among many Arabs that his administration would pursue a more balanced approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than his predecessor’s.
“We are here to renew our commitment and pledge to stand by Palestine until it realises its independence,” Mr Abul Gheit told the Arab delegates. “Our meeting today sends an important message to the entire world that, when it is related to Palestine, Arab nations speak with one voice.”
He added: “There is not on the horizon a substitute formula for a two-state solution that can meet the Palestinians’ aspiration for their own state and Israel’s need for security.”
Mr Abu Gheit also denounced the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “Recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving foreign embassies there are acts void of legitimacy,” he added.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Malky called for an international conference to work toward the end of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and to restore Palestinian rights.
“We hope and expect the Biden administration to embrace a deeper vision and more understanding of history, law and human nature,” he said, adding that the Palestinians continue to see “salvation” in the 2002 Arab peace plan, which offers Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from Arab territories it occupied in the 1967 Mideast war.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, called for “positive engagement” with the Biden administration on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying Washington has shown some “positive signs.”
The resolution said the ministers, “emphasise the adherence by Arab states to the two-state solution that envisages a sovereign Palestinian state under international law and relevant resolutions by the United Nations as well as the Arab peace plan in its entirety.”
The document also states that Arab states must stand united to face dangers, regional and international meddling and Israel’s repeated breaches of Arab sovereignty.
Member states must honour financial pledges made in previous Arab summits to the Palestinians and the international community must also honour its pledges to UNRWA, according to the draft. In addition, it calls on Arab states to engage the International Quartet and waste no time in urging it to work for a settlement. “All international parties, including the United Nations and the International Quartet, must be urged to take practical steps to launch credible negotiations that deal with all the final solution issues,” it said.
For the first time in nearly a year, more than a dozen foreign ministers attended the Arab League meeting in person. Most delegates in the Arab League’s opulent conference room wore masks as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic. The remainder were represented by lower ranking officials or participated virtually.
It was also the first such meeting since the January announcement by Mr Abbas that parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in May and July respectively.
The elections, the first in more than a decade, are widely expected to help narrow differences between the rival factions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Separately, Palestinian factions began an Egyptian-sponsored national dialogue forum in Cairo on Monday aimed at pushing forward election talks. Egypt has successfully brokered agreements between the two sides only to see them ignored or unravelling.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last Wednesday that he hoped the Middle East Quartet of mediators would meet again in the next “few weeks” now that there is a new US president in the White House.
The Quartet – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – does not appear to have had a meeting since September 2018.
“The truth is that we were completely blocked in relation to any form of peace negotiation. We had the Israelis and the Palestinians that wouldn’t talk to each other,” Mr Guterres said during an interview broadcast by The Washington Post.
“There is a strong will of the new US administration to play a positive role in creating these conditions for a true peace process to restart.”
Hamza Hendawi – Foreign Correspondent, Cairo