MUSCAT // Arab parliamentary leaders yesterday endorsed the appeal by the Speaker of the Federal National Council for regional economic integration as a starting point towards achieving political unity. Abdul Aziz al Ghurair had spoken at Sunday's session of the 15th Arab Inter-Parliamentary Conference in the Omani capital of the "dire need" for practical programmes and policies to make Arab solidarity more than just a slogan.
A communiqué at the end of the conference last night said the conference "asserts the importance of resolutions adopted by the Arab Economic Summit that was held in Kuwait and calls for implementing these resolutions as a basis for Arab unity through the economic gate that connect the interests of the Arab peoples". On Sudan, the leaders stressed that the international charters stipulate that states that are not part of international treaties are not bound by them.
The conference also condemned "the policy of double standards which exploits that international law against some Islamic and African states to serve political ends while it gives a blind eye to other countries that violate the international humanitarian law and commit brutal crimes". Several speakers during the conference had called for the prosecution of Israel over the offensive against Gaza that began at the end of December.
On Somalia, the communiqué urged warring Somali groups to start a reconciliation dialogue. It also urges the Arab states to combat piracy through concerted regional efforts. Discussions during the two-day annual event had been dominated by Sudan and Israel, while the global economic crisis and the need to keep investment within the Arab world topped the economic agenda. Although participants expressed concern over an intra-Palestinian rift, the Palestinian delegation included members of the Palestinian National Council - an assembly representing Palestinians both at home and in the diaspora - and representatives of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian Authority's parliament.
Fatah and Hamas, the groups that dominate the Palestinian political scene, have been locked in a fierce dispute for two years, though Egypt is hosting reconciliation talks. Arab leaders were deeply divided after the eruption of violence in late December, but Dr Abdul Raheem Shaheen, a member of the FNC from Ras al Khaimah, said that parliamentarians were keen to maintain strong relationships, despite the differences between some of their national leaders.
"The conference is trying to show that political division doesn't affect parliamentary relations," he said. The Arab split is between two groups of states. One, labelled moderate, advocates solving the Arab-Israeli conflict through continuing negotiations with Israel. The other calls for a boycott of the Jewish state. Mr al Ghurair reiterated the UAE's support for the Arab Peace Initiative, which was launched at a summit in Lebanon in 2002. The peace plan offers Israel peace and normalisation with the Arab and Islamic world for returning Arab lands occupied in the 1967 war and achieving a just solution for the Palestinian refugees.
He said, however, that Israel should understand that the peace initiative will not be on the table forever. "The Arab Peace Initiative should not be open-ended," he said. "If the Israeli side was serious about peace in the Middle East it should move swiftly towards that end." The parliamentary union's political committee also spent a good proportion of yesterday's meetings discussing piracy. The delegates called for unified Arab efforts to deal with the phenomenon before the area fell under the control of foreign navies moving against Somali pirates.
The leaders of the GCC states had condemned piracy in their summit here in December as a "form of terrorism". In recent months, pirates have succeeded in seizing some large commercial ships and oil tankers, only releasing them on the payment of ransom. The Speaker of Yemen's parliament, Yahya al Raie, suggested the establishment of an Arab naval shield that would not only combat piracy, but also protect the overall security of Arab nations.
"Piracy in the Gulf of Eden and Somalia have a great effect on international sea trade," Mr al Raie said. "It's important that the neighbouring countries join efforts to stop this because it affects everyone." Experts have said that it was not likely that the GCC navies would venture outside the Arabian Gulf. Other Arab countries do not have the naval capability to carry out such tasks. Therefore, analysts say, it is likely that the Arab nations will leave the protection sea lanes outside their immediate spheres to foreign powers. But Mr al Raie suggested that there were other means to combat piracy besides creating a pan-Arab naval power. "The Arab states should bring the Somalis together and they would be able to deter piracy."
Yemen has been the one of the countries most affected by instability in Somalia. It has four refugee camps with 1.4 million Somalis, a severe burden on a government already grappling with poverty and illiteracy in its own people. email@example.com