The 22nd Arab League summit that started yesterday in Libya has been billed as the Jerusalem summit.
Delegates are expected to focus on Israel’s continuing violations of international law in East Jerusalem, as well as in the occupied territory generally, and the importance of Jerusalem to Muslim as well as Christian Arab heritage.
This is all good, but as with so many Arab League summits, there is a danger that the talk will be devoid of consequence.
There is one clear way in which the Arab world can make this summit significant. It can set a clear deadline for Israel to accept the Arab League’s peace initiative, within a time frame not exceeding six months, after which the initiative will be taken off the table.
The Arab Peace Initiative represents the clearest signal yet from the Arab world that it is prepared to engage Israel as long as the latter is prepared to abide by international law.
That law and its stipulations, i.e., the illegality of settlement building in occupied territories, the illegality of the acquisition of territory in war and the illegality of denying refugees their right of return should once again be highlighted.
Israel should be promised, again, full peace and relations if it is prepared to abide by the strictures of international law, as well as by international humanitarian law (particularly in the case of Gaza Strip, where Israel’s inhumane siege must be ended).
But Israel should be left in no doubt either that the offer has a time limit and after that limit, the Arab world will support only the Palestinians in whatever decision they may reach, including whether to declare the peace process dead and unilaterally announce statehood.
The summit will be effective only if the Arab countries follow up words with action. Support for Palestinians must be ramped up in order for them to prepare for what are likely to be some rocky years ahead. That support should be diplomatic, moral and material.
The Palestinian issue is and will always be an Arab issue. The world must be told that it is an issue in which Arab countries take particular interest and that such interest is not to be ignored.
The Arab world needs to assert itself. And this is an issue upon which there is agreement. Arab countries should show that united they can take action, and they will take action.