Contested Jerusalem a unifying issue at Arab League summit

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Riyadh hosts the 29th Arab Summit, a meeting that will expose Arab disunity on almost every subject except Jerusalem: in Dec 2017 the United States formally recognized the Holy City as the capital of Israel, a move condemned by League members.

Israelis and Palestinians each claim Jerusalem as their capital. In common with other regional blocs, the 22-nation Arab League encompasses competing political ideologies and rivalries that make concerted action elusive. The present dispute between Qatar and other League members, might lead to summit boycotts. Several countries severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of backing extremist groups and of coziness with Iran. Doha denies the accusation. Saudi Arabia closed its only land border with Qatar in Dec 2017. The U.S. Jerusalem decision brought to the fore one of the few unifying subjects for the bloc – Palestine. The League regards it as an independent state. Even that subject exposes rifts. An Al Jazeera analysis of attempts at Arab unity in 2016 pointed out that the Palestine conflict has been as divisive politically as it has been unifying emotionally. “While in theory subscribing to solidarity and unity with the Palestinians, many Arab states have either made false promises or else withheld aid for personal political gain.” At an emergency meeting in Cairo following the Jerusalem announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump, Arab leaders resolved on a five-step strategy for Arabs to deal with his move, which will be followed by relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City. Details of the strategy, which is likely to include dissuading other leaders from announcing embassy moves to Jerusalem, can be expected after the March summit. The summit agenda will also address the conflicts in member states Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, as well as Iran’s perceived role in the regional strife. Commenting on the proceedings at the Mar 2017 League summit, Doha-based expert on Iranian affairs and a professor of contemporary Arab politics, Mahjoob Zweiri, said he “expects there will be strong criticism of Iran, of its intervention and activities in the region, but even then Arab countries are not unified in their perception of Iran.” The Arab League groups: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen.

Emergency OIC summit, Arab League meeting called to discuss Jerusalem (Al Arabiya Dec 2017)

Qatar crisis: What you need to know (BBC Jul 2017)

Arab Summit: 'Arabs lost confidence in their leaders' (AlJazeera Mar 2017)

A Question of Arab Unity (Al Jazeera May 2016)

Saudi Arabia to host 2018 Arab Summit (sharjah24 Mar 2017))

Date written/update: 2018-02-15