Arab League ministers seek consensus on Gaza before Bahrain summit

Secretary General calls for end to 'Israeli crimes' ahead of Manama meeting aimed at forging united Arab front

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Severing ties with Israel was not discussed by foreign ministers of Arab League countries, as they worked to reach a unified position on Gaza ahead of the Arab League summit in Bahrain, a senior official has said.

Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League, told The National that cutting off diplomatic ties “was not discussed in the meeting” on Tuesday.

He told reporters there was consensus at this year's Arab League summit, which is expected to focus on the war in Gaza.

“There is total and complete unanimous agreement this time around regarding the Bahrain declaration among the member states. The Bahrain declaration is a continuation of what was adopted in Riyadh," he said.

Mr Zaki was referring to an emergency summit convened in Riyadh in November, a month after Israel launched a military offensive on the Palestinian enclave in response to a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel.

"The war has continued and the war has evolved so we are adopting a political position that is adequate and commensurate with the current circumstances in Gaza,” Mr Zaki told The National.

Foreign ministers of Arab League countries gathered in Manama on Tuesday to finalise the bloc's joint action plan for the year before leaders arrive for their annual summit on Thursday. Bahrain, as current holder of the Arab League presidency, has been working towards Arab unity on the summit's final communique.

“Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani has been on a tour of the Arab states meeting with leaders to get them unified behind the final text, which is expected to announce a tougher stance against Israel,” a source told The National.

Emergency plan needed

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit arrived in Manama on Sunday and led a meeting of the group's Economic and Social Council, which was followed by talks on Arab unity regarding postwar reconstruction plans for Gaza.

“Every move, whether Arab or international, to put an end to Israeli crimes remains an utmost necessity,” he said at the opening session.

“The League of Arab States emphasised the importance of seeking to alleviate the pain of the residents of the Gaza Strip. The bridges of humanitarian aid coming from Arab countries to Gaza have not stopped, but Israel has continued to prevent the entry of aid and used the weapon of starvation against the people of the Gaza Strip,” Mr Aboul Gheit said.

He said the summit on Thursday would need to produce an “emergency plan to deal with the repercussions of the war”.

Muhannad Al Aklouk, the Palestinian representative to the Arab League, said the emergency response plan would require two stages.

“The first is programmes related to emergency response, comprehensive relief and early recovery, and the second will be worked on at a later time and is related to recovery and early reconstruction,” he told reporters in Manama.

Arab consensus

Diplomatic sources in Manama told The National that Bahraini summit organisers had been attempting to build on the resolution drafted at the Riyadh summit that failed to win majority consensus from the Arab League's 22 member states.

At the emergency meeting in November, Arab countries disagreed over several clauses that Saudi Arabia insisted on including. Eleven members voted for the resolution, four voted against, and the rest abstained.

After concluding three days of talks on a collective response and action regarding the developments in Gaza, the Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Co-operation jointly called for an arms embargo against Israel.

“There’s a sense with the diplomats already in discussions ahead of Thursday’s high-level meeting of leaders that this summit in Bahrain is a consequential summit because of the Palestinian cause,” Tawfeeq Almansour, a former Bahraini diplomat, told reporters on Sunday.

“The fate of the Palestinian cause is the fate of the Arab world. The recent aggression on Gaza solidified that even more.”

Addressing the foreign ministers' meeting on Tuesday, Mr Aboul Gheit said international intervention for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel was the only way to resolve their decades-old dispute.

“We call on international efforts to organise behind the creation of a two-state solution because the two parties, the Palestinian and the Israeli, are unable to reach an agreement on their own,” he said.

“Therefore, international intervention, in all its forms, has become a necessity. Returning to the path of bilateral negotiations is no longer a possible option. How can this negotiation take place when there is a party that rejects it in the first place?”

The UN General Assembly on Friday voted overwhelmingly in support of a Palestinian bid for full membership of the world body, a symbolic move after the US earlier vetoed the measure in the Security Council.

The resolution, which states that the Palestinians should be admitted to the UN and grants them some additional rights under their current observer status, received 143 votes in favour and nine against, with 25 abstentions.

Speaking to reporters in Manama, Mr Zaki said the group was preparing for a peace conference towards achieving the two-state goal.

Calls for Gaza ceasefire

The summit is being held as Israel intensifies military operations against Hamas in northern Gaza and in the crowded southern city of Rafah.

Israeli troops entered Rafah last week despite warnings from the international community, including from its leading ally and benefactor the US, about a humanitarian catastrophe if Israel invaded.

Rafah has been hosting more than a million Gazans displaced from their homes during more than seven months of a war that has razed buildings across the besieged enclave, which has destroyed its infrastructure and health system and created acute shortages of food.

Many of the more than 35,000 people killed so far have been women and children, Gaza's Health Ministry said.

The fighting in Rafah has forced out about 500,000 people so far, according to the UN Agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which said that “no place is safe” in Gaza.

Updated: May 15, 2024, 10:33 AM