Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Giving Voice to the Arab League: Who Failed?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Giving Voice to the Arab League: Who Failed?

Article excerpt

The Arab League ended its two-day summit in Algiers on March 23 with a reaffirmation of its 2002 resolution offering a comprehensive end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It goes without saying that this 2005 reiteration is a significant act on the part of the Arab League. What is even more significant, however, is not just that the mainstream U.S. media generally ignored the importance and equitable solution that this proposal represents, but that there also was virtually no reporting of the Israeli government's dismissal of this latest League extension of an olive branch-just as the original 2002 initiative also received very little media coverage.

Often named after the Saudi prince who proposed the resolution, the "Crown Prince Abdullah initiative" was and remains the best offer ever extended to Israel by all Arab states. Replicating U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338-each authored by Washington-the 2002 League initiative is based on the land-for-peace formula: Israel withdraws from all territories it occupied in 1967, allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state, and in return Israel would receive recognition and peace with the entire Arab world. A just solution for Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, and territorial adjustments is a necessary component of the initiative, of course, but it also is structured to allow for flexibility and compromise on these issues.

While discussions on other issues such as Lebanon and reform in the Arab world were inconclusive, the Arab League did affirm its support of Syria and opposition to the U.S. imposing sanctions on the country, as well as call for the continued unity of Iraq. Furthermore, in a surprise move, League Secretary-General Amr Musa announced the impending formation of a regionally elected "Arab parliament" to serve in an advisory capacity to the League.

Instead, what was highlighted in both U.S. and Israeli governmental and media reaction to the summit was the absence of League consideration of a proposal by Jordan's King Abdullah II. He had suggested that the League normalize relations with Israel without the Jewish state having first to return lands occupied in 1967. Algerian Foreign Minister Abd al-Aziz Belkhadem famously stated this "will not be the summit of normalization." With the failure of the League to accept Abdullah's proposal, which both the U.S. and Israel strongly supported, as well as the absence of other topics on the League's agenda, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli commented, "We think that was a missed opportunity...I would say that the final [League] communiqué did not have anything noteworthy, one way or the other, to comment on."

In a classic example of doublespeak, Ereli later added in regard to the League's reaffirmation of its 2002 peace proposal, "I'm not speaking non-supportively of it. I'm just saying that I'm not aware that this proposal right now is going anywhere."

Arab writers-and most Middle Easterners in general-realize that Washington usually is dismissive of any initiatives proposed by the Arab League. The mainstream U.S. media often take their cue from this attitude, describing League meetings in such negative terms as "impotent" and "squabbling." Indeed, media coverage of League summits is slight, and lacking in sophisticated (if any) analysis of resolutions or the opinions expressed by League member states. Furthermore, if one does find a "survey" of Arab reaction to the League in the mainstream U.S. media, it is almost entirely cherry-picked for its negative and critical content. On all these above points, the March 24 New York Times coverage of the League is an excellent example.

Since the Arab world generally is better conversant with U.S. events and politics-unlike the average U.S. citizen, whose only idea of Arab opinions is probably lumped under the negative moniker "the Arab street"-Arabs are quite aware that the League is stigmatized and effectively ignored in the U.S. This partially explains some of the criticism directed at the League by Arab writers. …

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