Yoav Stern
Haaretz (Opinion)
March 25, 2008 - 6:10pm

"The strength of the Arabs is in their solidarity" is the slogan of the Arab League Summit in Damascus, but it seems the Arab world has not been this fragmented for a very long time. The leaders of at least 12 Arab countries will not attend the summit that opens, according to remarks by Arab sources to Haaretz on Monday. They also said no significant decisions will be made at the summit.

Saudi Arabia announced Monday that it would be represented at the summit by its permanent representative to the Arab League, who holds the rank of ambassador. Egypt said President Hosni Mubarak would not attend, and it seems that his place will be taken by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Jordan's King Abdullah will most likely also not attend, and it is still not clear who will represent Lebanon.

However, Kuwait announced Monday that Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah will attend. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is expected to participate in the Damascus summit. The Syrians claim 14 Arab leaders have already confirmed their attendance.

According to Arab sources, the reason for the expected lack of accomplishments at the summit is disagreement among various Arab nations.

"The real decision-makers are not coming since there is no progress on the Lebanon issue," said one source.. "The Syrians have not demonstrated any flexibility or potential to change the situation."

The Lebanon question relates to Arab counties' demands, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that Syria help find a solution to the political crisis in Lebanon, and allow the election of a new president.

The Arab peace initiative is also not expected to see any significant decisions. Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit said Monday in an interview to the Al-Sharq newspaper published in Qatar that freezing the Arab peace initiative, or canceling it completely, would be a gift to Israel, since it would allow Israel to avoid its commitments.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar reported Monday that one of the proposed resolutions to be discussed at the summit is to cancel the initiative if Israel announces that it rejects the initiative. Nevertheless, due to the rule that decisions of the Arab League must be passed unanimously, the proposal, if it is brought up for debate, is expected to be rejected.

"Even if all the foreign ministers attend the summit, they cannot accept a different decision. Every change in the status quo will require postponing the decision to the next meeting of the leaders," said Arab sources.

Damascus has been preparing for the coming summit, the first to be held in Syria. The Al-Hayat newspaper said 5,000 rooms in Damascus' luxury hotels have been rented out to the various delegations. The Damascus airport has undergone large renovations, and regularly scheduled flights will be diverted over the weekend to Halab and Latakia to allow Arab leaders' private planes to arrive and depart freely.

The meetings on the level of Arab League permanent representatives started yesterday in Damascus, with the Lebanese ambassador was demonstrably absent.

Foreign ministers are expected to arrive on Thursday, while heads of state were supposed to arrive for the meetings on Saturday and Sunday.


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