Sunday, March 30, 2008
Slow progress in the Middle East
The sharp divisions among Arab states highlighted Saturday at the opening of the 22-nation Arab League in Damascus, Syria, reflect the advance of Western ideology in the politically backward region. At least 10 Arab countries kept their heads of state home for the start of the summit, which opened with a speech by Syrian President Bashar Assad, to protest Syria's role in Lebanon and other Middle East hotspots, according to the Associated Press. Assad, whose regime is deeply involved in Lebanon's political crisis, is closely aligned with Iran and is believed to be supporting the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, threatened to withdraw the Arab League's unrealistic six-year-old peace proposal to Israel. Heads of state from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco and Somalia, which have strong relations with the United States, did not attend the summit, and Lebanon did not send any diplomats at all. The division is a welcome change from the rabidly anti-Israel positions most Arab states have taken in the past. But not all Arab states were even that flexible. In his speech to the summit, Assad denied that Syria was interfering in Lebanon and said the Arab League proposal, which offers peace with Israel in exchange for withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and the creation of a Palestinian state, would not be on the table forever. It's no wonder Israel has refused to accept the proposal, except as a starting point for talks. "Peace will not come except through withdrawal from occupied Arab land and giving back (Arab) rights," Assad said, according to the Associated Press. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa suggested that Arab foreign ministers meet this summer to evaluate the Arab-Israeli peace process. "We must know in which direction we are moving," Moussa said. "If there is progress, we will welcome it. If there is not, then Arabs may have to take painful positions." U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is reportedly headed to the region to meet with Israeli and Arab leaders.