Arab summit set to reject Israel’s ‘Jewish state’ demand

Palestinians to push 2002 Arab peace initiative at Kuwait gathering, as an alternative to deadlocked US-led peace effort

The opening session of the Arab League Foreign ministers's meeting in preparation for the Arab Summit in Kuwait City, on March 23, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/YASSER AL-ZAYYAT)
The opening session of the Arab League Foreign ministers's meeting in preparation for the Arab Summit in Kuwait City, on March 23, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/YASSER AL-ZAYYAT)

Arab leaders meeting Tuesday in Kuwait are expected to back a Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The summit stresses a “categorical rejection” of the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, according to a draft statement endorsed by foreign ministers.

The statement also rejects “all pressures exerted on the Palestinian leadership” to force it into agreeing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the demand a central tenet of any peace deal with the Palestinians.

The Arab League has already rejected the demand, in a statement issued from its Cairo headquarters earlier this month.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is facing an uphill battle to keep peace talks on track beyond an April 29 deadline, with the negotiations waylaid over several key issues, including the question of recognition.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas has made it clear that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The resurrection of support for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is expected to dominate the summit, along with efforts to try to pressure the tiny but wealthy Gulf nation of Qatar to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition movements throughout the region.

At a preparatory meeting of foreign ministers ahead of the summit on Sunday, ministers called on Arab states to provide $100 million in financial aid to the Palestinian Authority every month and rejected recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

A Palestinian delegation, including Abbas, is expected to push at the meeting for backing of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as an alternative to US-led peace talks with Israel, according to various media reports.

The move comes as talks between Israel and the Palestinians appear headed for collapse. Israel and the US have pushed for talks to be extended beyond its April deadline, but Abbas has reportedly conditioned the continuation of negotiations on a settlement freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The Arab peace initiative, first put forward by Riyadh, would grant Israel full normalization across the Arab world in return for withdrawal from the Palestinian territories and an agreed-upon “just” solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees seeking to return to what is today Israel.

Reviving the issue would signal to Jerusalem and Washington that the offer will not always be on the table, a senior PA official told Haaretz.

Arab officials at the Kuwait summit told the Ma’an news agency that they were considering withdrawing the offer.

On Monday, a group of moderate Palestinian and Israeli lawmakers called on the Arab League to re-endorse the plan.

Aside from the Palestinian issue, the gathering will also tackle growing tensions among Gulf states over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, and two senior Arab officials said Monday that those two countries would take the lead in attempting to isolate Qatar by calling for a collective Arab approach to terror.

The summit in Kuwait follows months of tension over this issue. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar.

Qatar has reacted with dismay at the diplomatic gestures but insists it will push ahead with its own policies. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah has said his country will “follow a path of its own” and that the independence of its “foreign policy is simply non-negotiable.”

Qatar has in recent years played an outsized role in Arab affairs, spearheading efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis and mediating in some of Sudan’s internal conflicts.

At the heart of Egypt’s dispute with Qatar is its perceived support for the Brotherhood and former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted last July in a coup. Cairo’s military-backed government also blames the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network for inciting violence.

On Monday, an Egyptian tribunal sentenced 529 Brotherhood members to death, drawing condemnations from the US and human rights groups.

Saudi Arabia and its close Gulf Arab allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates complain that Qatar meddles in their internal affairs by supporting the opposition — the Muslim Brotherhood in the case of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

They also want Qatar to stop supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen, an impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation that is of strategic significance to Saudi Arabia. And they want Qatar to make sure that its arms shipments to guerrillas fighting the Syrian government do not wind up in the hands of terrorists.

One of the two Arab officials said Saudi Arabia and its two Gulf allies were adamant not to give Qatar any room for maneuver, and Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, has expressed a similarly hard line.

“There will be a breakthrough only if that nation (Qatar) changed the policies that caused the crisis in the first place,” al-Faisal told the London-based Al-Hayat daily recently.

Publicly airing differences among members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council is unusual for that exclusive and traditionally secretive club created in the 1980s as a loose political and economic alliance. The members are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.

But publicly berating Qatar over its foreign policy is unlikely to force change, according to Michael W. Hanna, a Middle East expert from the New York-based Century Foundation.

“No one in the Gulf region believes that Qatar will back down,” said Hanna. “Going public with the dispute has made it all the more difficult to resolve. The dispute is likely to escalate.”

Qatar’s emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is expected to attend the Kuwait summit, while Saudi Arabia is likely to be represented by its crown prince. The United Arab Emirates is sending the ruler of one of the seven sheikdoms that make up the Gulf nation, while Bahrain is due to send its crown prince.

The need for a collective Arab approach to terror will figure prominently in an address at the summit’s opening session Tuesday by Egyptian Interim President Adly Mansour, according to one of the Arab officials.

Mansour, a career judge, will restate a six-point plan of action against terror announced this month by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

The points, designed to embarrass Qatar, include a ban on providing a safe haven for terrorists or aiding them in any way and requirements for member nations to assist in investigations into terrorist attacks and extraditions of wanted militants, according to the official.

“Egypt has every intention to place this plan among the summit’s top priorities,” said the official. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

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