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Arab League to meet in Algeria for first time since Abraham Accords split region

Algiers hails event as reunion for Arab world, yet key leaders Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain will be absent from summit

This picture shows a general view of the opening session of the preparatory meeting of Arab foreign ministers on October 29, 2022, in the Algerian capital Algiers, ahead of the Arab League summit on Tuesday. (FETHI BELAID/AFP)
This picture shows a general view of the opening session of the preparatory meeting of Arab foreign ministers on October 29, 2022, in the Algerian capital Algiers, ahead of the Arab League summit on Tuesday. (FETHI BELAID/AFP)

Arab leaders are set to meet in the Algerian capital on Tuesday for their first summit since a string of normalization deals with Israel divided the region.

The 22-member Arab League held its last summit in 2019, prior to both the coronavirus pandemic and the US-backed Abraham Accords establishing diplomatic ties between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Sudan also signed on to the accords but has yet to officially form full diplomatic relations with Israel, while Morocco signed a separate normalization agreement with Jerusalem, deepening the kingdom’s decades-old rivalry with its neighbor Algeria.

Algeria, the host of the November 1-2 summit, a steadfast supporter of the Palestinians, mediated a reconciliation deal in October between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and the Hamas terror group.

While few believe the deal will last, it was seen as a public relations coup for Algeria, which has been seeking an enhanced regional and international role, on the back of its growing status as a sought-after gas exporter.

But Algeria has been unnerved by Morocco’s security and defense cooperation with Israel, adding to decades of mistrust fueled by a dispute over Western Sahara.

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (right), attends the opening session of the preparatory meeting of Arab foreign ministers on October 29, 2022 in the Algerian capital Algiers, ahead of the Arab League summit on Tuesday. (FETHI BELAID/AFP)

The status of Western Sahara –– a former Spanish colony considered a “non-self-governing territory” by the United Nations –– has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front since the 1970s.

In August 2021, Algiers cut diplomatic ties with Rabat alleging “hostile acts.”

Participants in the summit — with conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen also on the agenda — face the challenge of navigating the wording of a final statement, which has to be passed unanimously.

“The summit should send a message of support to the Palestinians, guaranteeing that they will not be sacrificed for the Abraham Accords,” said Geneva-based expert Hasni Abidi.

Algeria has heralded this week’s meeting as an event reunifying the Arab world, but several key figures, notably Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, reported to have an ear infection, and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI will be absent.

The leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will also stay away, according to Arab media.

“The Arab states which have normalized with Israel are not enthusiastic about the idea of a coming together to condemn their position,” said Abidi.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “move to put the Palestinian issue front and center haven’t reassured them,” he added.

Another source of controversy has been Algeria’s efforts to bring Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime back into the Arab League, a decade after its membership was suspended amid a brutal crackdown on 2011 Arab Spring-inspired protests.

Abidi said inviting Syria to the summit would have been “highly risky.”

“Algeria realized the consequences of such a presence on the summit. Together with Damascus, it has given up on its initiative,” he said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, left and his Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, center, attend the opening session of the annual summit of the Arab league at the King Abdul Aziz Conventional Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2007. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Pierre Boussel of France’s Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) said Syria’s return to the League is backed by Russia, an ally of both Algiers and Damascus, which is staying away from the Algiers summit.

But, he said, “Russia has decided not to try to force this through in a way that would have affected its relations with Arab countries already badly scalded by the economic impact of the Ukrainian conflict.”

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit called Friday for an “integrated Arab vision” to tackle the region’s pressing food security challenges.

Boussel said the “shockwave” of the Ukraine war, which has disrupted key grain imports for the region from the Black Sea, was being felt in Algiers.

“Given the scarcity of cereals, soaring inflation, and concerns about new energy routes, the Arab League needs to show it is capable of cohesion and inter-state solidarity, which it has lacked since the beginning of the crisis,” he said.

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