Samer al-Atrush, AFP
Last updated: 17 November, 2012

Arabs slam Israel over Gaza, urge stronger stance

Arab foreign ministers roundly denounced Israel’s campaign in Gaza at an emergency meeting in Cairo Saturday, as Egypt tried to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The Arab ministers decided that Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi would head a delegation to Gaza in a show of solidarity, and to review the “usefulness” of their past diplomacy towards Israel.

The session came amid a flurry of meetings to coordinate an Arab and Turkish response to the four-day conflict, in which 45 Palestinians have been killed in air strikes and three Israelis have died in Hamas rocket attacks.

At a press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said his government was in “vigorous” talks with Palestinians and Israel to bring an end to the fighting.

“There are some indications that there could be a ceasefire soon,” he said, though he added that there were still “no guarantees.”

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was also in Cairo to meet Egypt’s intelligence chief — traditionally the point man in mediating truces with Israel — and the visiting Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

A senior Hamas official told AFP the movement was reluctant to agree a truce because it does not believe mediators could guarantee the terms of a ceasefire. The “international community” had to put pressure on Israel, he said.

The Palestinian Information Centre, a website close to Hamas, which acts as a mouthpiece, reported that Meshaal had demanded “international guarantees” in his meeting with Egypt’s intelligence chief.

One of his demands was that Israel lift the blockade it imposed on Gaza after the Islamist movement seized the enclave in 2007.

The ministers at the Arab League meeting asked a task force to review “the usefulness of continuing the Arab commitment in proposing the Arab peace initiative as a strategic choice,” according to a statement issued after the meeting.

Member states should “reconsider all past Arab initiatives on the peace process and review their stance on the process as a whole,” said Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.

In 2002, Arab states offered Israel diplomatic recognition in return for its withdrawal from all occupied territory and an equitable settlement of the Palestinian refugee question. This has been a cornerstone of Arab diplomacy ever since.

“Our meetings have become a waste of money and a waste of time,” said Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani. “The whole situation needs a clear and honest review.”

The diplomats were not referring to the peace treaties Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan.

The Arab ministers placed the blame for the most recent round of fighting around Gaza on Israel.

Both Turkey and Egypt have publicly shrugged off pressure from Washington to exert pressure on the Islamist Hamas to end Palestinian militant rocket fire into Israel, blaming the Jewish state instead for the violence.

Crucially, the United States has backed Israel. President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call that Washington supported “Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Egypt and Turkey have in the past mediated ceasefires and a prisoner exchange between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Both countries have long-standing relations with the Jewish state that have grown increasingly cold over Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

Morsi, elected in June after a popular uprising overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak last year, recalled his ambassador in Tel Aviv after Wednesday’s air strikes and sent his premier to Gaza on Friday in a show of support.