RAMALLAH, March 27 (JMCC) – Expectations are low that Arab leaders will come to a major political consensus as they meet in Libya Saturday and Sunday.
“This summit will be an opportunity for taking pictures and eating sweets, just like any other,” says political analyst Samih Shabib.
But the lack of a clear political path in the Middle East conflict has all sides looking to the Arab League summit as arbiter.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will attend the summit to try to encourage leaders to continue to support negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Earlier in March Arab league foreign ministers gave a four-month window to allow indirect Palestinian and Israeli negotiations to succeed.
The continuation of Israeli settlement construction, however, has put the negotiations back on the table, with Palestinians insisting Israel rescind a decision to build 1,600 settlement units in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo before so-called “proximity talks” progress.
“This summit has to be different,” says Jamal Nimr, advisor to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who is attending the meet. Abbas is seeking a decision that would put pressure on the US to resolve the settlement issue with Israel.
The summit will discuss rescinding the Arab initiative, says League Secretary General Amr Moussa, a proposal made in 2002 that offers full peace to Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967.
But with six key leaders staying away from the conference, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who is recovering from an operation, major decisions seem unlikely.
Instead, leaders are expected to endorse a committee that will pursue legal measures against Israeli settlement, particularly in Jerusalem.
While Arab leaders announced Friday that $500 million would be donated to supporting Palestinians in Jerusalem, Hamas leader Ahmad Baher responded that “financial support is not enough – what is needed is political support.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just returned from the United States and extensive consultations over the issue of settlement construction. It appears that no agreement was reached between the two states, leaving the question of indirect negotiations stalled.
Israeli construction policy in Jerusalem has remained the same for 42 years and isn't changing, said a Friday statement from Netanyahu's spokesman.
Hamas leaders will not attend the summit, but have submitted a five- point paper calling on the League to take action against Israel.
It is time to “launch serious pressure” said Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in an interview with al-Jazeera television.
“We must say to the Palestinian people that the choice before you is resistance, and this should not only be said behind closed doors.”
Hamas is calling for a stronger Arab league position, condemnation of the killing of its commander Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai, an end to the closure of the al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem settlement and support for Palestinian reconciliation.
The Islamic movement Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 when its forces overran security positions held by rival faction Fateh. Egypt has been instrumental in trying to bring Hamas and Fateh to an accord that would reunite the Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but has so far failed.
This is only one of the divisions that plagues the Arab leadership, and Hamas leaders are equally pessimistic that the summit will lead to a strong position against Israel.
Hamas leader Mushir al-Masri says this Arab summit “will be like any other.”
(With reporting by Amjad Rafiq and Abdel Halim Jabber)