The best comment I heard about the forthcoming summit in Riyadh came from a senior Arab official who said, “We hope that the summit will focus on a limited number of key issues rather than lose its way amongst the various heaps of problems, both old and new.”
If the Arab League and the hosting country can succeed in making it a summit that is determined to resolve one issue, it will be more effective than issuing a joint statement that amalgamates hundreds of unresolved issues to be read in the concluding hour – as has become customary in previous summits.
And yet, there were two summits that achieved important results by virtue of selecting one specific issue to be made the focal point of the sessions. The first was the emergency Cairo summit in 1990 when Saddam [Hussein] invaded Kuwait. Despite the various attempts to hinder the summit, it nonetheless ended with providing the region with its most critical decision: rejecting the occupation and paving way for liberation. The decision resulted in granting the Kuwaitis the right to liberate their country by force, armed by the power of legitimacy. The second important summit was held in Beirut in 2002. Focused on the Palestinian cause, the outcome was the completion of the Arab Peace Initiative, which advanced the Arab position and pushed peace to its maximum limit in a collective manner that was consensual among Arab governments.
Unfortunately, the rest of the summits have fallen into the trap of dispersive and multiple tendencies, and open-ended decisions that did not benefit the region nor did they serve any important causes. The issue of southern Sudan has been lost and with it hundreds of thousands of lives and not even a minor summit was dedicated to address it. Likewise, huge scores of lives were lost in Iraq and not a single session was dedicated to address the Iraqi security situation. Military disputes have infested the Horn of Africa. In Lebanon, leaders and civilians have died and yet no Arab summit was called for it.
Anyone who reads the concluding statements will find that most of the efforts exerted by senior officials from Arab foreign affairs ministries are wasted over attempts to agree upon the complex terminology that is usually replete with hundreds of Arab and international causes. All efforts are mere expressions of ethical stances that do not see fruition.
Despite the fact that the upcoming summit in Riyadh is not an emergency summit; the timing is exceptional. The entry of the third aircraft carrier in the Gulf region portends the imminence of a new war. Iran’s insistence on building its nuclear reactors facing the Gulf States reflects its wish to threaten its Arab neighbors. The crisis in Iraq is moving towards a civil war, with the exodus of over 2 million people from their homes for sectarian reasons. Lebanon lives under the preparation for a war that is based on a number of different pretexts, while Palestine is embroiled in a devastating war waged against the Palestinian Authority – a war that is depriving the Palestinians from the greatest opportunity they will be granted to attain a solution that could alleviate the exacerbated regional situation.
An international tribunal will begin to charge the Sudanese regime for the massacres in Darfur, while another will commence in Lebanon to address the assassinations that have claimed the lives of the country’s leaders.
Conferees cannot offer solutions for all these issues, especially if we were to add the ongoing conflicts in the region to them. However, what they can do is focus on one single cause – a fundamental cause like that of Palestine – and commit to defining a single solution that is binding to all parties. If the summit were to focus on a limited number of issues and can manage to achieve practical results for these problems, then it would be considered a true victory.