Ask the Globe: Arab Summit
By PATRICK MARTIN
Thursday, March 28, 2002
We usually ignore Arab summits. Why was this one so special?
While 90 per cent of Arab summits criticize Israel, this meeting was called to consider a proposal from Saudi Arabia to compromise with Israel: Arab states would offer "normal relations" with Israel and guarantee its security if Israel relinquished all the land it captured from Arab states in the 1967 war, allowed Palestinians to establish their own state with a capital in Jerusalem and permitted refugees to return to what is now Israel. With violence in the region spiralling out of control, the United States and Western media put great store in this summit.
Who is to blame for its collapse?
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to guarantee that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be allowed to return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip if he attended the summit in Beirut. As a result, Mr. Arafat elected to stay home, leading to no-shows from Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah.
Is there any merit to the Saudi proposal?
Only to the Saudis, who are desperate to shore up relations with Washington. The proposal offers nothing that has not already been discussed and rejected by the two sides. The principle of land for peace dates back to United Nations Resolution 242, passed after the 1967 war. The problems are in the details of border adjustment, Jerusalem and refugees resettling in Israel.
What's the worst that can happen now?
Full-scale war involving Arab states remains unlikely, but escalation of violence and acts of terrorism by Palestinian groups is almost certain. For their part, Israelis may well reoccupy areas under Palestinian control and popular support for large-scale deportations of Palestinians may grow.
What's the U.S. agenda?
In the long term, it's oil security; in the short term, it's dealing with Saddam Hussein and ending regional support for international terrorism. As for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Washington wishes it would just go away.
Comment Editor Patrick Martin was The Globe's Middle East correspondent from 1991 to 1995.