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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Arab League to challenge US move on Golan at Security Council

Decision follows summit in Tunis where Qatari emir left abruptly without explanation

Arab leaders agreed to seek a UN Security Council resolution against US recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights after a meeting in Tunis that was marred by the abrupt departure of Qatar's emir.

A joint statement issued after the Arab League summit also warned other countries from following the US example.

The move to challenge President Donald Trump's controversial decision is unlikely to pass in the council as the US hold a power of veto.

The US action drew strong condemnation from Saudi Arabia's King Salman and other leaders who spoke at the summit.

However Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani left suddenly without giving his scheduled address. Qatari authorities gave no explanation for the emir's early departure, but television coverage of the meeting showed the the emir walking out shortly after Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit praised Saudi Arabia's handling of the group's rotating presidency last year.

This summit was the first time the Qatari and Saudi rulers attended the same event since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a boycott on Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and developing close ties with Iran. Qatar denies the accusations.

The Qatari emir's exit will further damage hopes of Arab unity and undermine the role of the League as a regional interlocutor. It also underlined the internecine rivalries and divisions over the various regional conflicts as the group seeks consensus on the challenges facing the Arab world.

In an agenda slated to include the continued conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen, as well as the future of the Palestinian state, little concrete progress on any was discernible. It was only on the issue of US support for Israel’s claims to the Golan Heights that agreement was reached, with the league issuing a stark rejection of the US move.

King Salman told delegates: “We reaffirm our absolute rejection of any measures that encroach upon Syrian sovereignty over the Golan, and we stress the importance of reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis that will guarantee Syria's security, unity and sovereignty and prevent foreign intervention in accordance with the Geneva Declaration and Security Council resolution 2254.”

King Salman also underscored the kingdom’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi stressed in his opening address that "saving the region from tension spots has become an essential matter that cannot be delayed".

"The Palestinian issue should be a priority in the joint Arab action and highlighted in the international arena," Mr Caid Essebsi said. "It is necessary to send a message to the international community that reaching security and stability in the area and in the entire world is done through a just settlement of the issue and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on the borders of 1967 and based on international legitimacy resolutions, the Arab peace initiative and the two-state solution."

Despite the assurances of regional leaders, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cast a downbeat note, saying that his nation continued to expect the worst from Israel and that he hoped for the support of the Arab region in case of future confrontations.

Unanimity among the 22 member states on the issue of Syria’s re-admittance to the League proved elusive, and for now Damascus remains outside the fold of Arab nations it was suspended from in 2011.

Irrespective of the outcomes, expectations for the summit within Tunisia had been high. With legislative and presidential elections due later this year, assembling such a high-profile roster of Arab leaders in the capital had been intended to underscore the international standing of the country’s 92-year-old president ahead of a potential second run in November.

In his opening address, Mr Caid Essebsi suggested that the 30th Arab Summit be referred to as the Summit of Determination and Solidarity, an aspiration seemingly at odds with the Qatari emir's premature departure.

Hopes within Tunisia, and most significantly Tunisia’s presidency, that the historically neutral North African nation may again play peacemaker now seem dashed.

Updated: April 1, 2019 11:40 AM

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