Representatives from the 22-member league – minus Syria – aim to jointly condemn Donald Trump‘s recognition of Israeli control over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war, and Mr Trump’s decision last year to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
At the opening of the summit, King Salman said Saudi Arabia “absolutely rejects any measures undermining Syria’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights” and supports the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
He added that Iran’s meddling was to blame for instability in the region.
Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said that interferences by regional rivals Iran and Turkey have “worsened some crises and created new problems.”
One of the few things that has united the Arab League over the last 50 years is the rejection of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights as well as east Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for their future state.
The international community, including the United States, largely shared that position until Mr Trump upended decades of US policy by moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem last year and recognising Israel’s 1981 annexation of the strategic Golan plateau earlier this month.
The Arab leaders meeting in Tunisia are expected to issue a statement condemning those moves. Mahmoud Khemiri, a spokesperson of the summit, said there will be a “strong resolution” on Golan. But the leaders are unlikely to take any further action.
That is in part because regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have cultivated close ties with the Trump administration, viewing it as a key ally against their main rival, Iran.
Both countries face Western pressure over their devastating three-year war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and Riyadh is still grappling with the fallout from the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents last year.
Lebanon‘s foreign minister Gebran Bassil said on Saturday that Arab ministers had voiced support in a preparatory meeting for a declaration that Mr Trump’s Golan move violates the UN Charter, which prohibits acquiring territories by force.
In Syria, small protests against Mr Trump’s Golan move were held in different parts of the country and state media criticised the Arab summit.
“The Golan is not awaiting support from the Arabs, and not a statement to condemn what Trump has done,” the Thawra newspaper said in an editorial that accused Arab leaders of taking their orders from the US and Israel.
The Arab League is expected to consider readmitting Syria, a founding member that was expelled in the early days of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad. But officials speaking ahead of the meeting said it was unlikely Syria would be welcomed back anytime soon.
The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus last year, and other Arab states have expressed support for restoring relations. But Saudi Arabia and Qatar have actively supported the rebels trying to overthrow Mr Assad, and many other states view his government as an Iranian proxy that should continue to be shunned.
Some countries were represented by their heads of state on Sunday, while others sent lower-level delegations.
The UAE sent the lesser-known Fujairah ruler Hamad bin Mohammed al-Sharqi rather than the powerful Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed or Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.
In a rare sign of easing tensions, King Salman and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani sat at the same sprawling table at Sunday’s opening session. It was the first time the two leaders have appeared in the same room since Saudi Arabia led the boycott of Qatar nearly two years ago over Doha’s ties to Iran and its support for regional Islamist groups.
However, Qatar’s emir left the summit after the opening session and did not attend the closed-door meeting later in the day, according to Qatar’s state-run news agency. It did not give a reason for his early departure.
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