Defending Palestine dominates agenda of first Arab summit in 1946

The issue of Palestine and the repercussions of the Nakba continue to dominate subsequent Arab summits for decades to come. Arab leaders also grapple with Iran adventurism in the region following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In part one of a two-part series, Sami Moubayed gives a historical review of key Arab summits over the years as Arab leaders grappled with consecutive wars, conflicts and uprisings.
Eduardo Ramon
In part one of a two-part series, Sami Moubayed gives a historical review of key Arab summits over the years as Arab leaders grappled with consecutive wars, conflicts and uprisings.

Defending Palestine dominates agenda of first Arab summit in 1946

In his gripping memoirs, Karim Thabet — special media advisor to King Farouk — claims that the first Arab summit in modern history was the product of casual talk between him and the king of Egypt.

It took place in the resorts of Inshas, approximately 60 kilometres east of Cairo, on 28-29 May 1946.

The Arab League was barely a year old, and Farouk wanted Inshas to build upon a very successful meeting that he had just wrapped up with King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud near Radwa Mount in January 1945.

The two leaders had decided to defend Palestine and create a united front that could ward off European dictates in the Arab world, and ambitions of the Hashemite royal family, then ruling both Iraq and Jordan.

That of course did not deter King Farouk from extending an invitation to the king of Jordan and regent of Iraq, Emir Abdul-Illah, given that the monarch was still a child. Both they and the rest of the Arab leaders were invited as founding members of the League of Arab States.

King Abdul-Aziz apologised for health reasons, sending his son Emir Saud in his stead, while Syria and Lebanon were represented by their recently elected presidents. Just one month prior to the Inshas Summit, Syria had declared its independence from the French Mandate.

AP
Representatives of seven Arab states, kings, presidents and princes met in Cairo on May 29, 1946, at the invitation of King Farouk to organise a united front against Jewish immigration to Palestine.

King Farouk waited on the tarmac to receive his Arab guests, dressed in royal attire. Lebanon’s president, Bechara El Khoury, was supposed to land just minutes before his Syrian counterpart, Shukri al-Quwatli.

A technical delay with the Lebanese plane led to the landing of the Syrian one first.

Farouk affectionately grabbed al-Quwatli by the arm and said: “Stand here and let’s welcome Sheikh Bechara together.”

When El Khoury got off the plane, he saw the king of Egypt and the president of Syria waiting for him at the red carpet.

Farouk joked: “This delay was no accident. It seems that Lebanon wanted to see both Syria and Egypt to be present at its welcome.”

El Khoury smiled politely, but al-Quwatli did not appreciate the joke. He turned to the king and said: “There is no difference between Syria and Lebanon, Your Majesty. If Lebanon prospers then so do we. If they fall, we fall.”

That was the mood at the first Arab Summit in Inshas, 77 years ago.

Since then, much has changed, both within the family of Arab nations and the world at large.

Here is a breakdown of Arab summits since 1945: where they succeeded and where they went horribly wrong.

Beirut Summit (14 November 1956)

Called for in emergency mode to address the Tripartite Aggression on Egypt after the 1956 nationalisation of the Suez Canal, this summit was skipped by President Gamal Abdul Nasser, who was busy in Cairo fighting off the British, French, and Israeli armies.

Four years earlier, Nasser and his colleagues had toppled King Farouk, the man who had initiated both the Arab League and its summits.

Four years earlier, Nasser and his colleagues had toppled King Farouk, the man who had initiated both the Arab League and its summits

Nine Arab leaders attended the Beirut summit, headed by Lebanese President Camille Chamoun, who was never too fond of Nasser or his anti-Western policies.

The summit stressed its support for Egypt and Algeria, then engaged in its own national uprising against the French.

By 1956, the Arab League had gotten a new secretary-general, being the Egyptian diplomat Abdul Khalek Hassouna, who succeeded the founding secretary-general Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha in September 1952. He would remain at the helm of League affairs, co-chairing all summits, until 1972.

Cairo Summit (13-16 January 1964)

It took another eight years for the Arab leaders to meet again, this time in Cairo. Morocco and Tunisia had joined the League in October 1958, followed by Kuwait in July 1961, and Algeria in August 1962. All of them were invited to the Cairo Summit of 1964.

Nasser by now had clearly parted ways with the West and firmly aligned himself with the USSR. King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud had died and been replaced by his son, King Saud. The Iraqi monarchy had been overthrown in July 1958 and was now ruled by a group of officers.

So was Syria. Its head of state, Amin al-Hafez, never got along with Abdul Nasser, although he took great care not to cross him openly.

Amin al-Hafez showed up for the Cairo summit and so did all 13 Arab League members. He nodded approvingly to all of the Egyptian president's demands, which included, among other things, establishing the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) headed by Ahmad al-Shuqayri.

Hafez and the Ba'athists were closer to the young Yasser Arafat, then a rising star in Arab politics and founding chairman of the Fateh Organisation. They believed that Arafat was more qualified to lead the Palestinian resistance but were overruled by Nasser, who put his full weight behind Shuqayri.

Egyptian intelligence had warned him against working with Arafat, accusing him of being pro-Muslim Brotherhood.   

Alexandria Summit (11 September 1964)

Eight months later, Nasser called for another summit, this time in the port city of Alexandria, attended by 14 heads of state. They welcomed the creation of the PLO and vowed to end British military presence in Cyprus and Aden, and to liberate Palestine "either collectively or individually" from Israeli occupation.

Casablanca Summit (13-17 September 1965)

Held in Morocco at the invitation of its king, Hassan II, it was the first time that the PLO formally holds a seat at an Arab League summit, representing the non-existent State of Palestine.

The meeting decided to set up a Palestinian National Council and come up with a lobbying strategy on behalf of the Palestinians, both at the UN and other international organisations.

The conference gained notoriety for the loud and angry exchange between Gamal Abdul Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan. They stood on open ends of the political spectrum and Nasser had often criticised Jordan, its monarch, and entire foreign policy, since the late 1950s.

AFP
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (R) receives Jordanian King Hussein, 20 March 1969 in Cairo.

 

The conference gained notoriety for the loud and angry exchange between Gamal Abdul Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan. Nasser was critical of King Hussein's policies.

Khartoum Summit (29 August-1 September 1967)

Held in response to the collective Arab defeat in the Six Day War of 1967, this summit formulated the famous resolutions that were to become benchmark of Arab politics for the next decade: no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no peace with Israel.

Gamal Abdul Nasser's welcome in Sudan – formerly an Egyptian protectorate – was historic. At the Khartoum summit Arab leaders decided to invest in oil as a weapon to add pressure on Israel and its Western backers.

Rabbat Summit (21 September 1969)

The Rabbat Summit was convened to address a deliberate fire at the al-Aqsa Mosque, triggered by an Australian whom the Arabs believed was working for Mossad. He set fire to the 12th-century minbar, triggering violent confrontations around the mosque.

The summit wrapped up with no final communique, and yet — no gross disagreements as well, and no drama. Fourteen heads of state were present, headed by King Hassan II of Morocco, and they discussed what was described as a "strategy" to stand up what was happening and around the al-Aqsa.

Cairo Summit (27 September 1970)

An extraordinary summit, it was called for in haste by President Nasser to discuss the outbreak of hostilities in Jordan (known as Black September) between King Hussein's army and the PLO, now chaired by Yasser Arafat.

Getty Images
Middle-Eastern leaders in Cairo for talks on the situation in Jordan, September 1970.

It would prove the last summit for Nasser, who died while seeing off his Arab guests back to the airport.

An extraordinary summit, it was called for in haste by Nasser to discuss Black September battle between King Hussein's army and the PLO, now chaired by Yasser Arafat. It would prove the last summit for Nasser, who died while seeing off his Arab guests back to the airport.

This summit was boycotted Algeria, Morocco, Syria, and Iraq, and its resolution was to call for an end to hostilities in Jordan and supervise a ceasefire. PLO fighters were ordered to withdraw from Amman.

The meeting ended on a positive note, with Arafat and King Hussein reconciling after much blood split on the streets of Jordan. All the Arab leaders would return to Cairo hours within days to take part in Nasser's mega-funeral on 1 October 1970.  

Algeria Summit (26 November 1973)

It took another three years for the Arabs to meet, following the October War of 1973.

The Algeria Summit was convened in the midst of a systematic campaign carried out by Israeli intelligence against prominent Palestinians living in Europe, who were gunned down for their alleged role in the Black September Organisation that laid claim to the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in early September 1972.

This was the first meeting attended by the new presidents of Egypt and Syria: Anwar al-Sadat and Hafez al-Assad.

AFP
Picture released on November 26, 1973 of President of Syria Hafez al-Assad attending the Arab summit in Algiers.

Ten Arab leaders took part in the first Algeria Summit, and one of its resolutions was setting forth two conditions for peace with Israel: withdrawal from all Arab territory occupied during the 1967 war and securing the "natural rights" of the Palestinian people, to statehood, a safe life, and the right of return.

The summit also demanded that Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and the PLO are offered $2.3 billion to continue to confront their fight against Israel and rebuild what the IDF had destroyed during the wars of 1967 and 1973.

And finally, the summit decided to let Mauritania into the Arab League, to be followed by Somalia in February 1974.

Additionally, this was the first summit attended by former Egyptian foreign minister Mahmud Riad, who succeeded Abdul Khaleq Hassouna as the third secretary-general of the Arab League in June 1972.

Rabat Summit (26-29 November 1974)

One of the more memorable Arab summits, it concluded with tangible outcomes.  

All the Arab states attended, and they designated the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people — a mandate that Arafat would continue to hold until his death in 2004.

Getty Images
King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and Algerian President Houari Boumediene during an Arab summit in Rabat on October 27, 1974, Morocco.

The PLO would subsequently be admitted to the Arab League on 9 September 1976, just weeks before the next Arab summit in Riyadh.

Riyadh Summit (16 October 1976)

Called for by Saudi Arabia, its main objective was to discuss the rapid break down of law and order in Lebanon. The civil war had broken out in April 1975 and one of its main players was Arafat and the PLO.

The summit was held in Riyadh months after King Faisal's assassination and his replacement by King Khaled Ibn Abdul-Aziz.

This was an extra-ordinary session attended by six Arab states only (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the PLO). Without actually issuing a multi-facetted final communique, its attendees called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon and floated the idea of sending an Arab army to help control the spiraling violence. 

Cairo Summit (25 October 1976)

Held within the shortest period from the previous summit (only nine days) this summit was called for by President Anwar Sadat to further discuss the Lebanese civil war.

All attempts at a ceasefire had failed and in May-June 1976, the Syrian army had intervened in the conflict, at the request of Lebanon's government and president, Suleiman Frangieh.

Arab states agreed to contribute, each according to its ability, to the reconstruction of Lebanon. Eleven months later Djibouti would join the League, just in time for the next summit in Iraq.

Baghdad Summit (2-5 November 1978)

The first and last to be held in Iraq, it was handled by Vice-President Saddam Hussein, who made clear to fix the royal family graveyards in Baghdad ahead of King Hussein's visit, expecting him to want to pay respects to his cousin, the slain King Faisal II.

AFP
Iraqi Vice-charman Saddam Hussein (l) meets 05 November 1978 in Baghdad with Prince Fahd Ibn Abdul-Aziz, deputy King of Saudi Arabia during the 5th session of the Arab summit conference.

Saddam used this summit to show the world that he was the one running Iraqi politics, rather than President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. The Baghdad summit was convened in response to Anwar Sadat's 1977 visit to Jerusalem and his signing of the Camp David Accords in September 1978.

Taking their cue from Libya's Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi, Syria's Hafez al-Assad, and Yasser Arafat, Arab leaders sharply criticised Sadat's separate peace, accusing him of harming, insulting, and abandoning the Palestinian people.

As a result, Egypt was subsequently suspended from the Arab League in March 1979, becoming the first Arab state to lose membership since 1946.

Arab leaders criticised accused Sadat of abandoning the Palestinian people. As a result, Egypt was subsequently suspended from the Arab League becoming the first Arab state to lose membership.

The League's offices were moved from Cairo to Tunis, only to return with Egypt's re-admittance on 23 May 1989, during the presidency of Sadat's successor, President Husni Mubarak. During the years 1979-1990 the Arab League was headed by Chedli Klibi, a prominent Tunisian politician.

Tunis Summit (29 November 1979)

Chaired by Tunisia's aging president Habib Bourguiba, it recognised that the conflict with Israel was a long-term one and would not end anytime soon — contrary to all previous Arab rhetoric.

Arab leaders made sure to re-stress their criticism of Sadat and the Camp David Accords, slam any talk about moving Israel's capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and condemn Israel's 1978 invasion of Southern Lebanon, under the guise of driving the PLO deep into the Lebanese heartland, away from the border area.

AFP
File picture dated 15 March 1978 shows Israeli soldiers during the first invasion of southern Lebanon, dubbed the Litani operation.

Amman Summit (25-27 November 1980)

Another rather uneventful summit, it was attended by 15 leaders who stressed a collective Arab desire to drown the Camp David Accords. They condemned Israeli aggression in South Lebanon and called for a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war that had broken out in two months earlier.

Arabs leaders also expressed a collective desire to continue boycotting Egypt, so long as the Camp David Accords were in place, and criticised the Carter administration for continuing to label the PLO a "terrorist organisation."

Arabs leaders also expressed a collective desire to continue boycotting Egypt, so long as the Camp David Accords were in place, and criticised the Carter administration for continuing to label the PLO a "terrorist organisation."

And finally, they agreed on a 20-year collective Arab economic charter that technically would end in 2000. 

Fez Summit (25 November 1981)

All major Arab states attended, with the exception of Egypt, but the conference ended after five hours due to Saudi-Syrian disagreement over King Fahd's proposed 8-point peace plan.

It called for Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territory occupied in 1967, the dismantling of Israeli settlements on post-1967 territory, and affirmed the right of return for the Palestinians.

It also envisioned an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, to live in peace with all its neighbours (Israeli included).

Fez Summit (6-9 September 1982)

Conveyed to approve the King Fahd Plan, it also decided to establish a committee to initiate contacts with the UN Security Council in order to follow up on the Saudi king's initiative.

The main topic on the summit agenda was Lebanon after the IDF had stormed and occupied Beirut earlier that summer, with the sole purpose of crushing the PLO in response to a failed assassination against the Israeli ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov.

Casablanca Summit (7-9 August 1985)

Once again chaired by King Hassan II, it called for the creation of two committees to solve inter-Arab disputes, like the chronic ones between Hafez al-Assad and both Saddam Hussein and King Hussein.

The summit communique was highly critical of Iran, accusing it of shunning all peace initiatives in order to prolong its war with Iraq.

Four Arab states completed boycotted the Casablanca summit (Syria, Lebanon, Southern Yemen, and Algeria). Libya had sent a meeting to the planning committee ahead of the summit but withdrew from the actual convention.

Amman Summit (8-11 November 1987)

Chaired by King Hussein of Jordan, the Amman summit was also very critical of Iran for occupying Iraqi territory.

Getty Images
Arab League Summit in Amman, Jordan on November 11, 1987.

It expresed full solidarity with Saddam Hussein and appreciation for his acceptance of UNSCR 598, which allowed for prisoner exchange and a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war.

Algeria Summit (7-9 June 1988)

Chaired by President Chadli Bendjedid, it was held at the backdrop of the first intifada of 1987, which caught both Israel and Arab leaders off-guard. Even Yasser Arafat seemed unprepared for it but had no choice but to embrace the young stone-throwers on the streets of Palestine, from his exile in Tunisia.

The Arabs assembled in Algeria promised to support the intifada, both financially and politically, pledging $128 million for the PLO. Another $43 million was promised monthly for the intifada, but it never got through and Arab states fell back on their commitment.

The summit also gave lip service to the Lebanese resistance challenging the Israeli occupation of the country's south and re-affirmed its support for Saddam Hussein.

Visit Al Majalla tomorrow to read part two of our History of Arab Summits coverage.

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