The Arab Summit: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Arab-American relations remain a crucial factor affecting the region. Washington remains a strategic ally for the Arab countries, particularly the Persian Gulf states, and it is not likely that they will adopt a hard stance against American policies, including a flat rejection of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” concerning Palestine. The development of Gulf-Israeli relations, however, remains a cause for some optimism.

Despite widespread debate over the 30th Arab Summit, held in Tunis on March 31, its final declaration has been positive, particularly regarding the Golan Heights issue. It condemns Donald Trump’s decision on March 25 to recognise the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, stressing the rejection of “attempts to impose a de facto policy and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan.” Arab foreign ministers were tasked with “submitting a draft resolution to the (UN) Security Council to seek International Court of Justice support,” condemning the illegitimacy of the US decision.

There is no doubt that the unilateral American move has led to a serious breach in the balance of power in the region. The Golan Heights offer a unique foothold and “strategic eye,” with a view of not only Syria but also Lebanon and Jordan. The American decision also undermines Syria’s water security, giving Israel complete control over Lake Tiberias, at a time when the scarcity of water resources remains a real threat throughout the Middle East, poised to incite future conflicts. It also undermines international law, and all international resolutions on the issue. These include Security Council Resolution 497, adopted unanimously on December 17, 1981, which states that Israel’s decision to impose its laws, power and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and lacks legal effectiveness at the international level.

Donald Trump’s Recognition of the Golan Heights and the United States’ Middle East Foreign Policy: Same Old?
Zach Battat
Whether President Trump understands his decision or not is anyone’s guess. Yet, his recognition of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights only escalates an already tense situation between Tel Aviv on one side and the two sides of the Syrian Civil War, Damascus and Tehran on the other. Further, it gives no incentive for Israel to negotiate some sort of peace accord with both Syria and Iran—something that is absolutely vital if tensions are to be reduced both in Syria and in the region.
Expert Opinions
Within such a context, it was expected that the Arab nations would go beyond condemnation and pursue more effective steps. There was no action plan or even a consensus among Arab states over the reinstatement of Syria’s membership, which was suspended in 2011. That can be explained in the light of some considerations.

The rift among the Arab nations is among the most notable. There was cautious optimism regarding the participation of the Emir of Qatar, who missed the last year’s summit in Saudi Arabia, and talk of the possibility of him meeting with the Saudi King. However, these hopes were dispelled when the Emir left the summit abruptly during the Secretary General’s speech, before he was scheduled to speak on Qatar’s behalf. King Salman also left early, underscoring the depth of the Persian Gulf crisis and the absence of any signs of it abating.

The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, stressed that Iranian and Turkish interventions in the internal affairs of Arab states had exacerbated the complexity of the Arab crises, prolonging them and creating new dilemmas. The final declaration explicitly referred to the Iranian threat. As a result, the Golan issue lost the needed focus, confirming that the group lacked a common vision for facing and prioritising security challenges.

Will the Golan Heights Be Trump’s Height?
Maxim Suchkov
Over the years of his presidency, Donald Trump has “accustomated” the international community and the global media to react excitedly to every provocative post he makes on his favourite social media platform, Twitter. It is more difficult to accustomate this audience to a radical revision of American foreign policy, especially when it comes to such a tricky region as the Middle East. His substantial change in the long-term related US agenda has caused, on the one hand, fears of new tensions, and on the other hand, criticism of the president for undermining the US’s positions with such initiatives and for strengthening the US’s opponents.
Expert Opinions

Arab-American relations remain a crucial factor affecting the region. Washington remains a strategic ally for the Arab countries, particularly the Persian Gulf states, and it is not likely that they will adopt a hard stance against American policies, including a flat rejection of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” concerning Palestine. The development of Gulf-Israeli relations, however, remains a cause for some optimism. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recognised the right of “Israelis to have a homeland” on April 2, 2018. Netanyahu’s visit to Oman last October and the visit of his son and the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sports to the United Arab Emirates in the same month indicate a growing understanding with Israel. That was evident at the Warsaw Conference on the Middle East last February, which constituted the first international meeting between Arabs and Israelis since the early 1990s.

The constrained official position of the Arab states, which was not satisfying enough for many Arabs, may encounter resistance from Hezbollah and the armed factions in Gaza. That would have an impact on the stability of the region and introduce more obstacles on the road to peace.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.