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Arab Summits: A modest proposal

03/31/2008

The Middle East still has many poor and needy people, so I think governments and civil society should pay close attention to my money saving proposition, especially in view of the looming recession.

Each year there is an Arab League summit, which decides almost nothing at all. Each year, all the newspapers in the Arab countries of the Middle East write editorials bewailing the inaction and powerlessness of the Arab League. Of course, each set of editorial writers wanted the summit to take a different and opposed action. The Syrians do not understand why the summit did not agree to their plan. The Saudis bewail the fact that the summit did not adopt their plan, and the Egyptians complain that the summit did not serve Arab interests by adopting their proposals. Muammar Qaddafi, Dictator President of Libya, generally gets the best mileage out of Arab League summits by making some outrageous statement. True to form, he did not disappoint this year either. He told the assembled leaders that they were all about to be destroyed by the United States, like Saddam Hussein. Qaddafi himself became a favorite of the West after giving up his nuclear development program and offering some nominal cooperation. So has nothing to worry about in that regard.

Israel's moderate peace partner, Mahmoud Abbas, must have also raised a few eyebrows when he made a plea for an Arab League force to protect the Palestinians in the West Bank. No doubt, Libyan howitzers in Qalqilia, 10 miles from Tel Aviv, and Syrian tanks in Ramallah are not quite what Israel has in mind in return for the support it is supposed to give Abbas's Fatah government. Arab state troops in the West Bank are the greatest strategic fear of the Israelis. However, they needn't worry. Abbas's proposal shows he is not relating to reality. In an Arab League force, the Syrians would point their guns at the Lebanese, the Saudis would aim for the Syrians, and the Libyans would shoot at everyone.

Each year the summit is a bit more grotesque than it was the previous year. This year's summit was not even a summit, since a significant number of Arab heads of state stayed away to protest Syrian policies in Lebanon, its alignment with Iran and its support for Hamas. At least, those were the reasons given by the Saudi newspaper Arab News. Everyone agreed that Michel Suleiman should be president of Lebanon, as Arab News points out. So why is there no deal on Lebanon? Everyone agrees on Suleiman, but the Saudis and Lebanese want Suleiman to be president in order to protect Lebanese independence from Syria, whereas the Syrians want to barter a Suleiman presidency for control of Lebanon. The Arab League was formed to carry out the decisions of its members, but if the members cannot decide, what is the point of the league?

Muammar Qaddafi should get credit where it is due. He does not excel in the subtleties of diplomacy, but he is certainly willing to tell the truth, as Al-Jazeera records:

Gaddafi also mocked a plan by the Arab League to start Arab cooperation on a joint nuclear programme.

"How can we do that? We hate each other, we wish ill of each other and our intelligence services conspire against each other. We are our own enemy."

In a moment of supreme identity confusion, Shimon Peres once suggested that Israel should join the Arab League. It was not necessarily Peres's most successful proposal. However, given the conflicting interests of the Arab countries, perhaps his ideas was not so absurd after all. The Vatican can join too. After all, the Iranians are already in the league by proxy, and they aren't Arabs.

My money saving proposal: the Arab League can be dissolved, the ministers and heads of state can stay home and the money that is saved can be turned to worthy projects. For this summit alone, for example, Kuwait donated 50 fancy limousines. Couldn't this money have been better spent on literacy programs for women, or desalination, or perhaps some hospitals or infrastructure for the Palestinians? Much more than money will be saved. It is better to keep silent and be suspected of disunity and impotence, then to speak with 10 different voices and confirm it. The Arab League summits only serve to remind the world and the Arabs that Arab unity is a fiction.

As for Qaddafi, he can find a different stage for his antics. Nero performed in dramas for example.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000683.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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