Diary: Cairo abuzz after Arab League meeting

'The National's' Cairo Correspondent Hamza Hendawi reflects on a day when conflicts from Yemen to Syria were examined with a vigour not seen since before the pandemic

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The Egyptian capital on Monday was abuzz with diplomatic activity on a scale not seen since the coronavirus pandemic struck a year ago.

Foreign ministers from more than a dozen Arab states gathered in Cairo for an emergency meeting called by Egypt and Jordan.

Arab League meetings have taken place online for the past year because of the pandemic but yesterday's gathering was attended by delegates from all 22 members of the organisation, including 14 ministers.

The meeting yielded a three-page resolution that returned the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the top of the Arab world's diplomatic agenda and served notice that the league's members would not put up with foreign interference in their affairs.

Ministers held bilateral talks. Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Palestine, Iraq and Saudi Arabia discussed issues from the Libyan conflict and Syria to security in Iraq and the war in Yemen.

Significantly, in Cairo on Monday, rival Palestinian factions met under Egypt's sponsorship to try to iron out their differences before parliamentary and presidential elections this year.

The reconciliation effort, while at an early stage, injected cautious optimism that Palestinian unity could co-ordinate efforts against the pandemic and, potentially, agree on the basis for negotiations with Israel.

Separately on Tuesday, Libyan delegates and UN officials met in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of Hurghada to discuss how to hold a referendum on a proposed constitution, part of a series of measures to find a political settlement to a decade-old conflict.

It was too early to say whether what happened in Monday's meeting at the Arab League's headquarters in Tahrir Square will be remembered as a day of lasting change.

In the past, other summits and meetings have been criticised for being long on rhetoric and short on action.

But the meeting will certainly be remembered for memorable quotations.

They reflected the anger and disappointment felt across much of the region over the long stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

Remarks from the meeting also reflected hope that the new US administration of President Joe Biden could be persuaded to embrace a less biased approach to the region’s primary conflict compared with that of former president Donald Trump.

Here are some of the most remarkable quotes made during the meeting:

"We hope and expect the American administration of Joe Biden to embrace a deep vision and better understanding of history, geography, politics and law, human nature, rationality and logic, justice and equality, reward and punishment."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh Al Malky.

"We want a peace that is both lasting and comprehensive, but occupation and peace cannot co-exist. Peace is conditional on the removal of occupation."
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safdy.

"The Palestinian question is, and will always be, at the heart of the collective Arab consciousness regardless of the stagnation and obstacles endured by the negotiation process and despite Israel's unilateral practices and settlement projects in the West Bank."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry.

“There is not on the horizon a substitute formula for the two-state solution that can satisfy both the Palestinians’ aspirations for their own state and Israel’s need for security. International consensus on the two-state solution must be translated into a practical effort to save that solution from Israel’s continuing attempts to undermine or sideline it.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit.

“As a group under the Arab League umbrella, the Arab nations will defend their common interests and Arab national security amid the different developments and fusions on the international stage and in a way that will prevent pressure and interference by regional and international powers seeking to achieve their agendas at the expense of Arab interests.”

The resolution adopted by the ministers at the end of their meeting.