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Palestine, Golan Heights take centre stage at Arab League summit

Tunis, Tunisia – The Arab League has rejected the US’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights and renewed a call for the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying peace and security in the region depended on a solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   In a final statement after Sunday’s summit in Tunisia’s…

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Palestine, Golan Heights take centre stage at Arab League summit

Tunis, Tunisia – The Arab League has rejected the US’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights and renewed a call for the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying peace and security in the region depended on a solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

In a final statement after Sunday’s summit in Tunisia’s capital, Arab leaders stressed their “full support for Syria’s right” over the Golan plateau, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war, and expressed their determination to “continue efforts to resume” peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

The daylong meeting in Tunis took place against the backdrop of ongoing regional unrest and conflict – from the long-running wars in Syria and Yemen to instability in Libya, and the widespread anti-government protests in Algeria and Sudan to a major diplomatic dispute in the Gulf.

Khamis al-Jihnaoui, Tunisia’s foreign minister, who delivered the 30th summit’s final statement, called the continuing conflicts in the Arab world “unacceptable”.

“Arab reconciliation is the starting point for stability in the region,” he said.

But his statement did not make mention of the majority of conflicts plaguing the region. Instead it was Washington’s recent move over Golan Heights and the Palestine issue that took centre stage.

Jihnaoui, reiterating the “the centrality of the Palestinian cause”, said Arab leaders were committed to resolving the conflict based on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which offered to recognise Israel in return for a full withdrawal from lands occupied in the 1967 war, including the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

‘End to painful era’

Speaking earlier in the day, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia repeated his kingdom’s support for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, while King Abdullah of Jordan, the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites, promised he would continue to protect the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

For his part, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s president, called for a “comprehensive peaceful solution” in order to “put an end to this painful era, which wasted our energy for seven decades”.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), meanwhile, blamed the US for the continued Israeli occupation.

“Israel’s continuation of its racist policy, and the act of being a state above the law, would not have been possible without the support of the American administration,” Abbas said at the summit.

The PA has rejected the US as a mediator between Israel and Palestine since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017.

But despite denouncing the US’s moves favouring Israel, there was no announcement of further action by the Arab leaders.

The summit’s focus on Palestine, analysts said, was a fig leaf for Arab leaders to deflect attention from turmoil in their countries.

Mahjoob Zweiri, the director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University, described the meeting as an attempt by Arab leaders to “deny what is happening in the Arab world, such as the increase of corruption, lack of transparency, and the worsening economic situation”.

“There’s a certain attempt to bring the issue of Palestine back in an attempt to please the Arab public,” he said. “The fact is the Arab League, for years and years, has done nothing to further the Palestinian question.”

In a move that ignores the Arab Peace Initiative, Arab states such as Oman and the United Arab Emirates over the past year have, overtly and covertly, tried to normalise relations with Israel.

That is why, Zweiri said, the Arab League’s policy statement was nothing more than rhetorical posturing.

“There won’t be any translation into any policy,” he said. “It will just be declarations to try to show the Arab public they are doing something.”

Arab leaders at the 30th annual summit of the Arab League in Tunis [Fethi Belaid/ AFP]

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, an Arab studies magazine, said the Palestine issue has been on the agenda of the Arab League from its very inception in the mid-1940s.

However, in recent years it has been demoted to “secondary or even tertiary status”, he added.

“Given that so many of today’s Arab governments are effectively beholden to foreign powers rather than their own citizens, there is now an attempt by the Trump administration to ostensibly rewrite international consensus on the resolutions of the question of Palestine – and for that matter the Arab-Israeli conflict – and using its enormous power to do so unilaterally,” Rabbani told Al Jazeera.

“Over the past year, there have been consistent reports that the Trump administration has been doing so either with the cooperation with or with the acquiescence of key Arab states,” he said, referring to the Middle East peace plan process.

The plan, which was devised by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, has the backing of major Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Its details have not been made public.

Given the keenness of Arab states’ to maintain good relations with the US, Rabbani said the Tunis summit was merely a “prominent platform” where leaders could deny accusations of their collaboration with Washington at the expense of the Palestinian cause.

“The Arab League has conclusively and unambiguously demonstrated itself to be an obstacle to rather than an instrument of collective Arab action and promoter of Arab rights,” Rabbani said.

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says. Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former…

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says.

Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He said that one of the major achievements of the deal – considered a huge political and diplomatic win – is that it opens up a “cooperative space not only for leaders but also for citizens of all the participating countries”
“The architects of this important agreement must ensure that the Accords is not an agreement just for their countries but for their people. Abraham Accords should serve as a launchpad for the sustainable peace and prosperity in the region,” Ban Ki-moon said while addressing a virtual conference on ‘The Abraham Accords: Advancing UAE-Israel, Regional, and Muslim-Jewish Cooperation’ organised by UK-based Emirates Society.
Stressing on the important role of education in building secure, peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies in both a short and long term, the Secretary General said it is his “sincere hope that the UAE and Israel and others redouble their sustained effort to educate their students and citizens – both young and old – about the significance of this important agreement and each other.”
“Devising curriculum and expanding global citizenship education as well as being aggressive about stamping out instances of anti-Semitism and islamophobia are important steps to take in this regard, he added.
He said people to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in helping to change mindset and begin a dynamic new era of cooperation.
Palestinian cause
The UAE is the first GCC country and the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel by signing the US-brokered Abraham Accords on September 15. Bahrain and Sudan also followed suit and have signed peace deals with Israel.
The deal is considered a game changer for peace and stability in the region, as in exchange, Israel has agreed to temporarily halt annexations in the West Bank.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, said the UAE continues to consider the issue of a Palestinian state as the most important one but without impeding opportunities for dialogue and open communication.
She said Abraham Accords was born from a “desire to change the business as usual approach” that has mired the countries of Middle East in conflict for long.
Even as the UAE continues to work for its own national agenda, Al Hashimi said the country is “really looking to learn from each other and also to explain to one another who we are and what matters to us”.
“And it does matter to the Arab and the Muslim world that a Palestinian state in its rightful place … exists.”
Ban Ki-Moon said it would be difficult to forge lasting peace without addressing the Palestinian question as well as issues like the final status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlement.
“To truly advance the vision of peace throughout the Middle East, we should not forget that the Palestinians must be involved in determining a future that is based on security and prosperity for all people in the region. I hope that Abraham Accords can function as a springboard for invigorated action on ensuring a negotiated two-state solution aligned with the relevant UN security council resolutions.”
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Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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