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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Ahram Online: Arab regimes seek to avoid offending USA - impacts their response to Gaza situation

Arab League: Style over substance on Gaza

Arab League has offered a change in style since beginning of latest wave of
violence on Gaza, but Arab states remain wary of 'offending' the United
Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 21 Nov 2012

An Arab League ministerial delegation arrived in Gaza on Tuesday to express
solidarity with the under-siege territory. The delegation was headed by Arab
League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi and included more than ten foreign
ministers from the region. Also joining the delegation was the foreign
minister of Turkey whose prime minister was in Cairo for a bilateral visit.

The short visit came after several Arab delegations had already been to Gaza
to show solidarity and call for an end to the bloodshed. An extraordinary
Arab League foreign ministers meeting convened for a few hours in Cairo on
Saturday and asked for an end to the bloodshed without offering any concrete
plan of action.

At the meeting, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad Ben Jassim
told his counterparts that they were not up to forging a firm plan of action
because “none of us dares to.”

“It is absolutely true," said an Arab League diplomat. "Any firm plan of
action would have required some serious decision-making with regards to
Arab-Israeli relations. This would have offended Israel and the US and there
is no Arab capital that is willing to go there – not the rich gulf Arab
states and not the Arab Spring states. All the Arab regimes are keen on
their relations with the US – even those who loudly criticise Washington.”

According to the diplomat and others who took part in the meeting on
Saturday, no serious proposals were put forward on how to handle the Israeli
aggression. They added that ‘ceasefire’ was used by almost every speaker.
Egypt and Qatar took the lead in this respect.

“Nobody spoke about supporting resistance or any of this. Forget about the
public discourse that is designed for political consumption. Everybody was
keen on a ceasefire,” said the Arab League diplomat. He added that the
Palestinian file is not a priority for any of the regimes, especially not to
the Arab Spring countries which are suffering acute economic problems and
internal political challenges.

This said, Arab and Cairo-based Western diplomats agree that the collective
Arab approach towards Palestine had been altered in style. The prompt
Egyptian decision to summon Cairo’s ambassador in Tel Aviv and the visit of
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil to Gaza on the second day of the
Israel aggression was the highlight of that change.

“In the past Egypt and Saudi Arabia used to take the lead in blaming Hamas
for its miscalculations. This is no longer the case. The change is
essentially on the side of Egypt and it enforced a change, at least during
the (Arab League) meetings, on the positions expressed by Saudi Arabia – and
to an extent also on Jordan,” the same Arab League diplomat said.

At the meetings this week, the Arab League did not go as far as a 2001 Arab
League meeting that actually announced, rather than threatened to announce,
a suspension of all forms of Arab-Israeli relations.

“That was the only one time this happened. At the time, Amr Moussa had just
taken over at the Arab League and he wanted to introduce a change. But his
plans were aborted by the Egyptians who were supported by the Saudis,
Jordanians and others,” the same diplomat explained. He added that the
Egyptian delegation did not pursue anything beyond a condemnation of the
aggression and call for end of hostilities.

“We have gone the extra-mile [this time]. We immediately summoned the
ambassador (from Israel) and sent the prime minister to Gaza the following
day. But we also have to be careful because we have so many worries,” said
an Egyptian government official.

The Israeli aggression in Gaza started while Egypt was busy negotiating a
loan with the IMF and while it was trying to curb the dominance of Jihadist
Islamists in Sinai. On both matters, Egypt has serious matters to settle
with the US. “We are keen to keep good relations with the US. We are not
going to get into a fight with the US,” the same government official said.

Tunis, whose foreign minister was in Gaza on the third day of the
aggression, is not prepared to take unplanned positions. During the Arab
League meeting earlier this week, the Tunisian delegation stressed the need
for humanitarian relief and for a collective position to support the right
of Palestinians to end the suffocating five-year siege on Gaza.

Arab diplomats say it is not just the Arab league member states that are
opting for a “well-calculated policy.” Turkey is doing the same thing by
calling for a ceasefire and humanitarian assistance.

In his remarks during a joint Arab-Turkish press conference in Gaza, the
Turkish foreign minister condemned the Israeli atrocities in Gaza and
insisted that history would not forget them, but said nothing about an
escalation by Ankara.

A Turkish diplomat, who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly from Ankara, suggested his
country was considering offering an ease in its relations with Israel to
encourage the Israeli government to pursue a gradual lifting of the siege on
Gaza. “You do what pays off,” he said.

In Gaza on Tuesday, the Turkish foreign minister said his country would
continue to work to end the siege on Gaza.

Arab diplomats agreed that it was still an open question whether this change
in style rather than content by Arab League member states would force a
significant change in Israeli policies on Gaza, or the wider Palestinian
file. Indeed, during the visits of Arab officials to Gaza this week, Israel
did not fully suspend hostilities.

And according to Cairo-based Western diplomats the Israeli decision to
delay, if not fully cancel, a ground attack on Gaza was prompted by the
Americans and Europeans, not by the Arab reaction.

“Still, it has to be said that Israel is not at all happy with the change of
attitude by the Arab countries,” said one Cairo-based Western diplomat. She
added, “Clearly this change is an outcome of the Arab Spring. We are all
aware of this.”

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