Dalia Ghanem, European Union Institute for Security Studies:
On 1 November 2022, leaders and officials from the Arab world met in the Algerian capital for the 31st edition of the Arab League summit, after a three-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the meeting, branded as the ‘summit of reunion’, Arab leaders talked about the Palestinian cause, the instability of the region, food security and the future of joint Arab action.
For Arab leaders, discussing how to strengthen joint Arab action is challenging because each Arab country has its own agenda. There are internal dissensions within the League of Arab States (LAS) over several issues (including Libya, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine) and over the reintegration of Syria into the League after its suspension in 2011. Furthermore, the League is divided between pro-Russian and pro-US/ Israeli sympathies, even if many state members claim to be neutral. Since the previous summit in Tunisia in 2019, several countries of the 22-member League, which has for decades represented a platform in support of the Palestinian cause, have taken steps to normalise relations with Israel. The first were the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain which concluded an agreement brokered by the United States in September 2020, known as the ‘Abraham Accords’. In August 2021, after years of informal ties, Morocco also agreed to normalise relations with Israel.
Between the states that have normalised relations with Israel and those that have so far declined to do so, there are sharp differences of opinion, as is the case between Morocco and Algeria, which remains an ardent supporter of the Palestinians. Before the summit, Algeria negotiated a reconciliation agreement between 14 Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and various others.
For Algiers, hosting the summit offered an opportunity to return to the regional arena after an absence of two decades. However, for the LAS, the summit did not accomplish anything significant.
The inability of the LAS to act or to solve regional problems and speak with one voice is due to several factors related to its member states (low human development and government effectiveness indices), regional characteristics (power distribution in the region) and above all, organisational aspects. The latter include the League’s unanimity-based decision-making procedure and the weakness of its institutional mechanisms. This Brief first provides an overview of the shortcomings of the LAS, before going on to analyse how Algeria leveraged the recent summit to its advantage. It concludes by indicating some ways in which the EU could engage more closely and constructively with the LAS.