A small dose of Arab unity

Amman summit: Lip service fails to heal split over Iraq or to do much for Palestinians.

March 30, 2001

THE FIRST Arab League summit in a decade, at Amman, Jordan, was a triumph for being held. The winner was the host, King Abdullah II, for getting everyone there.

That said, the summit was a failure, unable to bridge the chasm between Iraq and the country it invaded in 1990, Kuwait, and the one it threatened, Saudi Arabia. They still rely on the United States for protection against dictator Saddam Hussein that they cannot obtain from Arab brothers.

Although most Arabs want to end United Nations sanctions against Iraq, manipulated by Saddam Hussein to impoverish the people, he would not make sufficient amends to Kuwait.

That little nation is still traumatized, still rallying national consciousness around the 600 Kuwaitis kidnapped to Iraq and unaccounted for. Iraq's dictator stayed home and sent a brazen speech, counting on popular opinion in the Arab world to end his ostracism.

The summit staged a reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Syria. PLO leader Yasser Arafat met Syria's young president, Bashaar al-Assad, whose late father condemned Mr. Arafat as an appeaser of Israel.

The summit was preceded by Palestinian terrorism designed to provoke Israeli reprisals that the summit would condemn. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government accordingly delayed its expected response.

The Amman summit reiterated rhetorical support for Palestinian resistance, without underwriting the consequences, and routine condemnation of Israel, without

addressing the provocations.

In the past, Arabs pledged extensive economic aid to the Palestinian Authority, then reneged, citing corruption. This time, they pledged $40 million a month for six months so that Mr. Arafat can pay police and civil servants after the intifada shut down the economy. Little enough, if it materializes.

Arab unity remains more rhetorical than real, divided by ambition and splits between Islamacists and secularists, socialists and free marketers, kings and generals, oil wealth and poverty.

Washington was isolated in vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have established a force to observe Israeli but not Palestinian violence. The Arab summit neither thwarted nor helped U.S. policies. Its achievement was to have occurred.

The Arab states as a group remain unable or unwilling to make either peace or war with Israel. They condone terrorism while condemning counter-terrorism. In this, they fool neither Israelis nor Palestinians.

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