opn Arab Summit
A billboard shows flags of countries participating in 33rd Arab Summit that will take place in Manama, Bahrain, May 14, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

The 33rd regular Arab Summit will take place on Thursday, May 16, in the Bahraini capital of Manama, against the backdrop of pressing challenges confronting the Arab region.

The summit will unfold in a hospitable environment, with the warm embrace of the Arab Bahraini people and leadership, demonstrating their deep engagement in Arab affairs. While the summit will gather in a GCC country nestled within a secure and stable Gulf region, it is not far from the spectre of regional expansion.

It is surprising to remember that the inaugural official Arab summit took place in 1946 in Egypt, with the participation of only seven independent Arab countries. During the first meeting, Arab concerns were focused on two key issues, the first of which pertained to the Palestine cause, even before the formation of the Jewish state.

The second issue was to help Arab nations, which were under colonial rule at that time, regain their freedom. In this matter, the Arabs achieved relative success, while the first issue, persisting for nearly 80 years, continues to top the agenda of Arab summits to this day.

The primary focus of the Manama summit is the enduring Palestinian cause, a perennial concern topping the agendas of all Arab summits. Additionally, the summit will address numerous issues stemming from the failures of Arab states, exacerbated by civil wars and unrest in Sudan and Yemen, with Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Libya facing similar challenges.

Read more by Mohammad Alrumaihi

Expansionism in the region

Another pressing concern is the Arab discord on the western flank of the Arab region. Iran’s increasing dominance over four Arab capitals, openly pursuing further expansion, is a significant worry. Despite achieving independence, these capitals continue to fall under Tehran’s influence. Iran’s desire to export its revolution serves as a guise for Iranian expansionism in the region.

The Palestinian cause has remained a permanent issue on the agenda of the Arab League, undergoing some developments over time. Initially, Arab countries succeeded in fostering reconciliation among the Palestinians, who have historically experienced discord among their leaders despite the significance and justness of their cause.

This led to the formation of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), recognised by Arab countries and many others globally. However, discord resurfaced again between factions such as “Fatah” and “Hamas,” reminiscent of the Nashashibi-Husseini divide in the 1940s. Despite changing names, the underlying discord persists.

The second significant development occurred at the 2002 Beirut Summit, during which Saudi Arabia proposed and gained approval for what became known as the Arab Peace Initiative. This initiative outlined a comprehensive mutual solution to the ongoing conflicts in the region.

Therefore, the summit scheduled for today in Manama faces significant challenges. The civilian casualties in Gaza have reached a level surpassing even genocide, with Palestinian groups in Gaza fleeing from one unsafe location to another, mercilessly pursued by Israeli bombing.

Egregious violation of humanity

Israel’s egregious violation of humanity has prompted people of conscience in various countries to stage protests in major cities.

Some of the blame may also be attributed to Hamas, which entered a war with uncertain outcomes that could lead to catastrophes. Hamas waged a war that is far from over, and it is completely unpredictable as to how it will come to an end. This war is not also far from interference led by Iran, which seeks to sow chaos.

Over the past eight decades, the Palestinian cause has become a pawn for external forces seeking independence and advantages outside of Palestine. Palestinian organisations often chose alliances unwisely.

For instance, incidents like “Black September” in Jordan and the subjugation of Lebanon to the whims of armed groups were strategies that ultimately undermined the cause rather than advancing it, leading it further into disillusionment.

Today, the Arab summit faces a multitude of challenges, among which the reconciliation between the Palestinians themselves stands as one of the most enduring.

Effectiveness of strategies

Over the past 24 years, the main Palestinian factions have attempted reconciliation and cooperation more than 20 times, from the swearing-in ceremony in Mecca to meetings in Algiers, Moscow, and Beijing. However, achieving lasting unity has remained elusive, akin to a prey constantly slipping from their grasp.

Against the backdrop of the harrowing suffering and massive death toll endured by the people of Gaza, the persecution of thousands of prisoners, including women and children in Israel’s prisons, and the daily hardships faced by the inhabitants of the West Bank is in sharp focus.

Any rational observer of the numerous Arab summits, each grappling with myriad challenges and resolving many, but consistently faltering on one — the Palestinian issue — must inevitably question the effectiveness of the strategies employed.

The core of the Palestinian issue is not solely rooted in external factors but is significantly hindered by internal divisions, which serve as the primary obstacle to resolution. It is imperative for the Arab nations to unite and address these challenges in a cohesive and unified manner.

Mohammad Alrumaihi is an author and Professor of Political Sociology at Kuwait University