Arab League summit in Bahrain to call for Palestine-Israel peace conference

Leaders are set to arrive in Manama on Thursday and adopt resolution focused on Gaza war

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Leaders will arrive for the Arab League summit on Thursday after a unanimous vote to adopt the “Bahrain declaration” calling for a peace conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Manama, a Bahraini official confirmed.

Ambassador Ahmed Al Turaifi, Chief of Arab and African Affairs at Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said his country will begin working towards hosting the peace conference after the Arab League summit finishes.

“When the foreign ministers of the Arab world met on Tuesday, there was a unanimous agreement that the next diplomatic step towards ending the war on Gaza had to be steps taken towards hosting a peace conference to resolve the Palestinian issue and once and for all give the Palestinian people their full right as a member state in front of the world,” Mr Al Turaifi told The National.

“What makes this conference significantly different this time around, compared to past efforts and peace conferences is that the world has finally awoken following the tragedy of the people in Gaza, with 143 countries voting at the UN General Assembly and sending a clear message that the two-state solution is the only path forward,” he added.

The assembly voted last Friday to support Palestine's bid for full UN membership with 143 votes in favour of the resolution, which was proposed in the name of 22 Arab countries and co-sponsored by about 65 states.

At the preparatory meeting for foreign ministers in Bahrain’s capital on Tuesday, ministers agreed on a draft agenda for the summit, as well as draft resolutions and documents that will be presented to leaders.

“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,” Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary general of the Arab League, told The National.

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

As Arab leaders prepared for the summit in Manama, gun battles between Israel and militants from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions intensified overnight into some of the fiercest in months in both northern and southern Gaza.

Israeli tanks reached the densely populated neighbourhoods and narrow alleyways of the Jabalia camp in the north-east, facing heavy resistance.

Reviving the peace process

Part of the Bahrain declaration, which will be read out on Thursday, includes a call for a UN-backed international peace conference to resolve the Palestinian issue to be held in Bahrain.

Ambassador Muhannad Al Aklouk, the permanent representative of Palestine at the Arab League, confirmed the peace conference plan.

“The summit will adopt a set of Arab initiatives, including holding an international peace conference to resolve the Palestinian issue, under the auspices of the UN on the territory of Bahrain,” Mr Al Aklouk said in Manama. “Palestine welcomes and supports the initiative, and considers it a response to the peace plan previously presented by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2018.”

In a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2018, Mr Abbas called for a “genuine peace process” after talks towards a two-state solution had stalled. Since then, the quartet comprising the UN, the US, Russia and the EU have unsuccessfully attempted to revive the peace process.

There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since 2014, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.

Setting a deadline

“Diplomats reached a consensus that a genuine peace conference that would bring both Arab and western partners to the table and pressure Israel back to the negotiating table was much needed at this point of the war,” a Bahraini diplomatic source told The National.

The source said the communique would adopt the call for the peace conference and that Bahrain would work over the next few months to bring all parties to the table.

Addressing journalists during a meeting on Wednesday morning in Amman, Belgian Minister of Development Co-operation Caroline Gennez confirmed that efforts for a Middle East peace conference are under way, without giving more specific details. However, she said that there is no government in Israel interested in a “viable” solution.

Mr Al Aklouk said that the conference aims to launch a “genuine political process with a specific time limit, leading to ending the occupation based on international references for the peace process, including the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative”.

During a meeting in Cairo last March, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares discussed the idea of holding an international peace conference.

Mr Aboul Gheit stressed the importance of Arab-European co-operation to ensure such a conference takes place, aiming for a two-state solution and a political future for Palestinians.

The 22-member Arab League is also expected to reaffirm its position on Thursday by ruling out western and Israeli proposals for Arab countries to intervene directly in Gaza and its governance post war, according to a source who spoke to The National about the Bahrain declaration.

On Saturday, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the country “refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip”, denouncing recent comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last month, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Arab states would not send troops to Gaza to avoid being associated with the “misery that this war has created”.

“As Arab countries, we have a plan. We know what we want. We want peace on the basis of the two-state solution,” he said in Riyadh.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis contributed reporting from Amman

Updated: May 16, 2024, 10:28 AM