Arab leaders hope to communicate unified opposition to U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but at least one expert predicts “theatrical” proclamations at the most.
By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff
Arab diplomats and leaders meeting in Tunisia on Sunday hope to project unified opposition to the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem, but as with past Arab League summits, the gathering is likely to expose their own bitter rivalries.
Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are likely to tone down any statement of condemnation, eager to maintain good relations with the White House as it cranks up pressure on their main rival, top terror-sponsor Iran.
Certain leaders at the summit may also seek to avoid derailing behind-the-scenes warming ties between Arab states and Israel, which have became apparent via secret visits to the Jewish state by Arab diplomats, public statements regarding Israel’s right to defend itself, and the welcoming of Israeli athletes to sports competitions in Arab nations.
Addressing the Golan recognition would also further highlight Syria’s absence from the Arab League, from which it was expelled in the early days of the uprising against brutal dictator Bashar Assad. Some Arab leaders think Syria — a founding member — should be readmitted. Others, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have spent years supporting the insurgency.
Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War after Syria had for years used the strategic plateau to attack northern Israel. Ignoring its strategic necessity for Israel’s national security, Arab states have long demanded its return, and condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over it earlier this week.
Arab League spokesman Mahmoud Afifi said the 22-member bloc would aim to issue a proclamation on the Golan, but experts expect little more than a standard denunciation.
“It will be just a very strong, theatrical, nice, maybe strong statement,” said Ahmed Abd Rabou, a visiting professor of international affairs at the University of Denver. “But I doubt that this will have a true political effect.”
Arab leaders responded similarly to the U.S.’ decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with statements condemning the move but little else in what some saw as a shocking divergence from decades of blind support for the Palestinians from the Arab world .
Many Gulf states view the U.S. as a vital ally against Iran, which financially supports and arms several terror proxies and rogue armies in the region, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen.
Indeed, Gulf states welcomed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement and restore crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Other Arab states are preoccupied with their own troubles, with Yemen and Libya riven by internal conflicts and Iraq looking for international support as it struggles to rebuild after the war against ISIS.
Mahmoud Khemiri, a spokesman for the summit, said Assad’s reintegration “isn’t foreseeable at the current time.”
Since its founding more than 70 years ago, the Arab League has struggled — largely unsuccessfully — for unity, grappling with the many issues on which Arab leaders are deeply divided.