Arab League summit told it is time for world to recognise Palestinian state

Senior officials from the 22 member states and UN are set to issue declaration at talks to help resolve Gaza war

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Arab leaders and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres attended the 33rd Arab League summit in Manama on Thursday, calling for an international peace conference to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

In addition to the proposed peace summit, Arab leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, were consistent in pressing for a two-state solution to the conflict, calling on the international community to rally behind the plan.

Leaders and representatives from the 22 Arab League member states, as well as Mr Guterres, met at Sakhir Palace, in southern Bahrain. The Palestinian crisis and Israel’s war in the besieged Gaza Strip will top the agenda.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Vice President, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Presidential Court, represented the UAE.

The summit was also attended by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad after his country returned to the fold last year. Palestine was represented by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on the day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was opposed to the PA playing any role in governing Gaza once the war is over.

Israel has launched military operations in Rafah, in southern Gaza, as well as in the north of the enclave. At least 600,000 Palestinians have been driven out of Rafah since the beginning of last week, the UN said. In northern Gaza, the latest Israeli evacuation orders have displaced at least 100,000.

Opening the summit on Thursday, Bahrain’s King Hamad said Manama was hosting the Arab League summit amid “painful and unprecedented” circumstances, saying the Palestinians have been denied their freedom and right to “define their future”.

“In light of the denial of their legitimate rights to security, freedom and self-determination of the brotherly Palestinian people, our need increases to formulate a joint and urgent Arab and international position that adopts the path of dialogue and collective solidarity to stop the bloodshed of wars and bring about a final and just peaceful solution,” Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said as he opened the summit.

The Bahraini king said the establishment of an independent Palestinian state will bring “positivity to the entire Arab region to overcome its crises and to join hands for the sake of progressive development in support of all Palestinian brothers”.

For his part, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman confirmed the kingdom’s support for the establishment of a Palestinian state and its international recognition, calling for the international community to “stop the brutal aggression against our Palestinian brothers”.

He also called for resolving disputes through peaceful means, adding that Riyadh has “supported efforts to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” stressing the importance of "maintaining the security of the Red Sea region".

Palestinian issue leads agenda

The National reported previously that the final communique, called the Bahrain declaration, is to include strong actionable clauses to resolve the conflict. Plans are to include an international peace conference begin held in Manama in the coming months, to rebuild international momentum to revive the two-state solution.

An unofficial draft of the final communique, seen by The National, included a clause that would call for the “deployment of international protection and peacekeeping forces affiliated with the United Nations in the occupied Palestinian territory until the two-state solution is implemented”.

In recent weeks, Arab leaders have rejected western pressure to agree to send troops into Gaza after the conflict.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, 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 comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last month, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Arab states would not send troops to Gaza, and will not allow themselves to be tied to the “misery this war has created”.

The draft communique shows the Arab leaders will also “set a time limit for the political process and negotiations” over the introduction of a two-state solution, which will include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit opened his address by decrying Israel’s continuation of “its ethnic cleansing operations in Gaza by force”.

“Israel's allies provided it with political cover to continue the war in Gaza,” Mr Aboul Gheit said.

“A credible and irreversible path must be established to establish a Palestinian state. We demand an international peace conference that embodies the vision of the two-state solution.”

The Sudanese civil war was also included in the draft communique, with calls for "an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, to preserve the national state institutions and the sovereignty of the Sudanese state, alleviate the suffering of the Sudanese people and prevent external interference that leads to prolonging the crisis, including a threat to regional peace and security”.

The statement will also address the crisis in Syria. Arab leaders will also “reject interference in Syria’s internal affairs and any attempts to bring about demographic changes there”.

Shift in tone

With Mr Guterres in Bahrain, diplomats and observers have noted a shift in the tone of western countries towards the Palestinian crisis, as the Gaza war enters its eighth month.

Speaking in English during his address at the Arab League, Mr Guterres said the war in Gaza is an "open wound that threatens to infect the entire region".

"The only permanent way to end the cycle of violence and instability is through a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states," the UN chief said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to “immediately begin implementing the two-state solution” during his speech. Arab states needed to “review their relationship” with Israel, he added.

“We ask our brothers and friends to review their relations with [Israel], and link the continuation of ties to stopping [Israel’s] open war against the Palestinian people, their land, their sanctities, and returning to the path of peace and international legitimacy,” he said.

He also placed some blame on Hamas over the October 7 attacks on Israel.

“The military operation carried out by Hamas by a unilateral decision on that day, October 7, provided Israel with more pretexts and justifications to attack the Gaza Strip,” Mr Abbas said.

Ahmed Al Turaifi, an official in Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The National that a meeting of Arab foreign ministers earlier this week led to the drafting of a final communique that “had to reflect the shift in tone”.

“We recognise as Bahrainis who hold the presidency this year that this summit had to reflect both the aspirations of the Arab people in working collectively to resolve our geopolitical issues in the region at a very sensitive time,” Mr Al Turaifi said.

Bahraini MP Ahmed Al Saloom told The National that the country is aware of the significance of the summit. “The Arab world and streets are expecting a hard-hitting final communique that once and for all places clauses that will force joint action to resolve the Palestinian issue. The final communique that will be released has to reflect that,” he said.

Updated: May 17, 2024, 5:38 AM