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KUWAIT: Arab rift over Gaza hard to heal

January 20, 2009 |  5:01 am


Arab divisions, which have hardened since the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, resurfaced at the Kuwait summit.

Arab governments failed today to develop a common position over the situation in Gaza, but hopes for reconciliation arose after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia criticized Arab divisions and called for unity. “We have transcended the phase of differences and opened the door for Arab fraternity and unity to every Arab.” 

Shortly after, Egyptian, Saudi, Qatari and Syrian leaders sat for lunch together, which some media celebrated as a sign of a possible rapprochement  between the U.S. allies who refuse to throw their full support behind Hamas, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one hand, and Iranian allies in the region,  namely Syria, on the other.

Nevertheless, the rift needs more than just a lunch to be healed. According to media reports, the same differences emerged on the second day of the summit as Egypt and Saudi Arabia refused to endorse Syrian and Qatari recommendations to call off or suspend the Arab peace initiative -- a Saudi blueprint for a peace agreement between Israel and all Arab states. The initiative was first announced in 2002.

The final statement refrained from touching on tough questions, such as the future of the Arab peace initiative or the recognition of Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Arab countries were content to condemn the Israeli aggression as “barbarian” and call for an “immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces, the lifting of the unjust siege and the maintenance of the cease-fire.” The statement was a disappointment to many observers who sought a harsher response to the Israeli campaign that has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians. Yet, not much should be expected from Arab summits.

Since the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, the Arab split has been in the limelight. Arab governments have been exchanging accusations of treason. Egypt has faced ruthless criticism, namely from Syria and Qatar, for refusing to fully open the Rafah crossing. On the other hand, the Egyptian state-owned press has accused Syria and Qatar of serving Iranian interests in the region. The split was manifested when Egypt, Saudi Arabia and their followers in the Arab world boycotted a Syrian-backed summit in Doha, Qatar, last week. 

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: In this handout image from the Saudi Press Agency Arab leader meet during the the Arab Economic, Development and Social Summit in Kuwait City on January 19, 2009. Credit: SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/EPA

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