The Arab League concluded its 27th annual summit on July 28 in Nouakchott, Mauritania. The sessions exposed the deep divisions in the Arab world, the bloc's decreased influence in regional affairs, and the declining importance of Palestinian issues in the Middle East.
The annual affair apparently failed to make progress on last year's Saudi proposal to establish an all-Arab, multinational force in response to Iran's aggressive policies in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. The Nouakchott-hosted sessions also seem to have made no progress toward developing a unified anti-terrorist agenda. The growth of the Islamic State presence in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa was evidently a prime motivator for the perceived need for an anti-terrorism policy.
The Arab League's precipitous decline in political clout was symbolically exposed by the failure of many key national leaders to attend the conference. The leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia did not attend. Only eight national leaders from the 22-member organization attended the conference.
However, the most significant aspect of this year's conference was the downgrading in significance of Palestinian issues on the agenda. Perhaps aware of this development, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas also decided not to attend. However, PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki explained that Abbas could not attend due to the recent death of his brother. Later, Maliki, somewhat quixotically, called upon the Arab League to help sponsor a UN Resolution to initiate a lawsuit against the United Kingdom for having embraced the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which made it official London policy to support the creation of a national home for the Jewish People.
Nevertheless, when the representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hectored delegates that they no longer seem to treat the depressed state of the Palestinian people as the overriding issue that should unite all Arabs, his pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears. The PFLP gave public evidence of the Palestinian issue's fall from priority, stating on their website that "this year's resolutions are no more than a carbon copy of the resolutions of the Arab Summits made in previous years. It reflects the situation too of the Arab League which long ago lost the Arab peoples' confidence."
Hamas also ruefully expressed similar frustration with the Arab League delegates, saying the summit "reflects the status of decline which the Arabs are suffering, even at the official level."
Ironically, the only commentator who assessed that the Palestinian issue remains paramount in Arab minds was the French Consul General in Jerusalem, Herv Magro, who commented that "the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the central issue in the Middle East."
Arab and Islamic states traditionally give lip service to the Palestine issue and Israel's "occupation" of Arab lands. However, from the substance discussed at the Arab Summit, it seems apparent that Palestinian affairs and the so-called Arab-Israeli peace process are not currently the primary concerns of Arab states. Certainly, there was little evidence at this year's annual meeting that Palestine was any representative's principal concern, except that of the PFLP delegate.
The tenor of this year's conference demonstrates the politically reality of a divided Arab world, a community of Arab states that is bereft of the confidence to act collectively in its own interests, and its fearful inability to meet the challenge of either Iran or radical Islamic terrorism, which threaten the very existence of their regimes.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.