In Riyadh: 2 Lebanons; 'Diktats' for Iraq, Israel; and No Libya

The 19th Arab League Summit got underway in Riyadh on Wednesday - a forum for Arab demands and internecine rivalry, with many VIP guests.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz,

Arab League meeting (archive)
Arab League meeting (archive)
At the first session of the two-day Arab League Summit in Riyadh on Wednesday, 22 Arab nations made clear their demands from Israel in exchange for normalization of relations.  Reaffirming a plan first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, known as the Saudi Initiative, they continue to call for Israel to withdraw from all territories conquered in 1967, to agree to a Palestinian state in the evacuated lands, and to absorb millions of Arabs inside its diminished borders.
Israel is not the only one that expressed dismay over Arab attempts to "dictate terms."

In his address to the gathered Arab heads of state, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that there was no "honest mediation" between Israel and its Arab neighbors, even as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice completed an intensive series of diplomatic meetings with Israeli and Arab leaders.

The Arab League made it clear that the decision was not an "opening position," but an exclusive and final proposal.
 
In reaction to the Arab League vote, Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that there is no substitute for negotiations and that, by dictating terms, the Arab League is not inviting dialogue.
 
In recent weeks, Israeli government ministers have expressed reserved acceptance of the Saudi terms, while saying that elements of it would need to be changed. Earlier this month, several Arab leaders, including Egypt's Hosbi Mubarak, rejected any talk of amending the plan or negotiating its terms.

Iraq is Also Miffed
Israel, however, is not the only Middle Eastern minority entity that expressed dismay over Arab attempts to "dictate terms." Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, called the League's decision to call for changes in the Iraqi constitution that would tend to favor Sunni Muslims an "Arab diktat."

More generally, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah used the initial session of the Arab League Summit to condemn the "illegitimate foreign occupation" of Iraq. The US quickly responded to the Saudi monarch's characterization of the American presence in Iraq by saying, "The United States is in Iraq at the request of the Iraqis and under a United Nations mandate."

Aside from the verbal skewering of the Arab League by a Kurdish official from Iraq, two Arab states used the summit as a vehicle for their own internecine rivalries. Lebanon sent two delegations to the conference - not for the first time - with one headed by President Emile Lahoud and the other by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Both claimed to represent the Mediterranean state. Ahead of the summit, Lahoud demanded that the Arab League declare an end to its backing of the Siniora government.

Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi, on the other hand, sent no delegation and boycotted the Riyadh summit altogether. Earlier this month, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgham told reporters that the Arab countries are "not serious" in their proclamations.  "All the Arabs now consider Iran to be the main enemy and have forgotten Israel,"
Lebanon sent two delegations. Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi sent none.
Shalgham charged, adding that they "keep pressing the Palestinians to respond to the conditions of the Quartet, [but] no one presses Israel."
 
Kaddafi had earlier expressed his concern that the Arab states would concede the Israeli position that Arab refugees must be absorbed in the Arab states. To prevent such an eventuality, Kaddafi threatened to deport all those self-identified as "Palestinians" in his country to Gaza.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and European Union foreign policy envoy Javier Solana, as well as several other non-Arab dignitaries and diplomats were invited to attend the Arab League Summit's opening session in Riyadh. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was invited to take part in the summit as a special guest.

In a related item, Reporters Without Borders urged leaders attending the Arab League summit to issue a joint appeal for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who has been held hostage by Palestinian Authority terrorists for more than two weeks.


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