Arab moves in the right direction


Al-Quds al-Arabi 9 September 2008

Addressing the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers conference at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo yesterday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faysal called for setting up an "Arab mechanism" to follow up the Palestinian national dialogue and determine which side complies with and implements whatever agreement is reached among the Palestinian groups.

The Saudi call is of great significance, particularly because it coincides with official Egyptian efforts to end the current serious divisions plaguing the Palestinian ranks. Towards this end, Egypt is hosting an in-depth dialogue among all effective Palestinian groups.

The question now is how to work out this mechanism, ensure its success in achieving the goals for which it would be set up, and make sure that the Arab parties are serious about sponsoring such a mechanism. This is because numerous Arab initiatives were launched in the past towards this goal but resulted in no more than television interviews and cold handshakes without any change being made in the situation.

It is obvious that both disputing Palestinian parties are facing a difficult impasse and are looking for a lifeline. So any serious Arab move may provide an opportunity to save face and offer a way-out of the current crisis.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is beginning to realize that the honeymoon of peace negotiations, which the US Administration has embraced since the Annapolis peace conference eight months ago, is nearing the end without producing any fruit. He has asserted more than once, whether directly or through his spokesmen, that it was difficult to attain an independent Palestinian state before the end of this year as US President George Bush had promised.

As for the Hamas Movement, its government in the Gaza Strip is facing a series of troubles and blockades, some of which are internal and caused by strikes in vital sectors, like health and education, which are incited by the Ramallah government, but most of which are external, resulting from the oppressive blockade and starvation imposed on the Gaza Strip by US-Israeli pressure with Arab participation.

The Saudi foreign minister's talk of setting up an Arab mechanism for resolving Palestinian differences and of sponsoring the intra-Palestinian dialogue is fine. And his talk of the necessity of having one Palestinian point of reference is even finer. Yet what is required to attain these noble goals, which are supported by every Arab and Palestinian, is that the Arab countries themselves should take bold steps that prove to the Palestinian people and the Arab nation that they are indeed serious about again embracing the central Arab cause, just as the Saudi foreign minister himself described it.

In other words, how could any Arab mechanism gain credibility and trust in the eyes of the Palestinian parties while the Israeli blockade imposed on the Palestinian people, particularly in the Gaza Strip, is continuing? It would have been more appropriate for the Saudi foreign minister, particularly because his country is the chairman of the current session of the Arab League Coun! cil, to demand that the Rafah crossing be immediately opened to allow over 1.5 million Muslims and Arabs in Gaza to leave their big detention camp and lead a normal life like other peoples.

Another important point is that the Arab countries should be open to all Palestinian groups and talk to all of them, because the current policy of renunciation that the Arab governments are pursuing against this or that Palestinian group, for reasons that are unconvincing, would not help achieve the desired reconciliation. When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia offered $100 million in aid to the Palestinian [National] Authority in Ramallah, something that we appreciate and thank Saudi Arabia for, the latter was expected to ask President Abbas and his government to allocate part of the aid to those besieged in the Gaza Strip to alleviate their suffering during the holy month of Ramadan.

 Arab engagement with the Palestinian cause, as evidenced in the meetings of the Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, is worthy of praise. We hope that this engagement will be followed by practical, serious steps that will replace the repeated accusations that  Iran is interfering in Palestinian affairs. What is worthy of criticism is the official Arab vacuum in the Palestinian arena, which opens the way to others  to fill.