The warm embrace Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah gave Syria's Bashar Assad, with whom he did not speak for the past eight months, was the only sign of political romance evident in the summit that has already been described as "the summit of the last chance for peace." Because the sum of the internal conflicts between Syria and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Fatah and Hamas, the Arab states and Iran, and inside Iraq itself, suggest not for the first time that there are major question marks regarding the strength and abilities of the Arab League.
This time it appears there is an even greater rift, when in the League a bloc of four states has formed (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates), setting a path bypassing the summit and aiming to make crucial decisions on fundamental issues like the peace process, Iraq and Lebanon. This bloc tried last night to also bring Syria into its ranks, in a tripartite meeting between Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Abdullah and Assad.
What did unite the Arab leaders was the historic text of the 2002 Beirut summit, which included the Arab peace initiative. A steadfast refusal by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but not Jordan, to make any changes to the text transformed it into a "sacred text" that will be used as the platform or Arab agreement in any future process between Israel and the Arab states.
Even more important, the emphasis on the fact the Arab countries are "obligated" by the Arab initiative, places Hamas in a position of being the only Arab ruling party that still uses the comparatively feeble expression: "respects the decisions of the summit."
While the Saudis are sticking with the original formulation of the decision from 2002 to avoid disagreements among the Arab states, especially to prevent Syria from using its veto power, Saudi Arabia will seek to further the diplomatic initiative on two levels. One, in an effort to lift the embargo on the Palestinian Authority, and two, to create a new framework for dialogue between the parties.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on these terms, and it is still unclear whether the U.S. will adopt them and use them as a platform for renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians under the auspices of both the international and Arab Quartets. This way there will be a joint framework that will provide both sides the guarantees to implement the decisions that are made.
Three other Muslim states are likely to join this framework: Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia, who were invited to attend the summit as guests, and who are expected to broaden the initiative to the Muslim world and offer Israel a greater incentive.
A select monitoring committee, comprising representatives of the Arab Quartet (as opposed to the broader group of 11 countries), is expected to travel to Washington at the completion of the summit to rally President George Bush to the effort. Such a move is now viewed as urgent as the U.S. presidential elections are drawing near, and the members of the Arab Quartet are planning to offer active assistance in Iraq in exchange for American diplomatic activity on the diplomatic front on the part of Bush.
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