Below is an extract from an article titled “The deep discord bedevilling the Arab world” which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 25th.
“This latest heads-of-state meeting, like all previous ones, is being convened by the Arab League, which was established nearly 70 years ago to foster mutual co-ordination in order to achieve “the close co-operation of the member-states”.
In the euphoria of that post-colonial independence era much more than co-operation seemed possible.
Millions of Arabs dreamed of smashing down the border fences erected by the British and French colonists to achieve unity from Morocco in the west to the Gulf states in the east.
All the ingredients seemed to be there as energetic young leaders took power: shared religion, language, history and culture – and a craving for a return of Arab self-esteem.”
Leaving aside the fact that the utopian dream of “smashing down the border fences” promoted here by the article’s writer Gerald Butt is contradicted even by the Arab League’s founding document which states clearly in Article 8 that each member country “shall pledge itself not to take any action tending to change” the form of government of the others, Butt also misleads BBC audiences by eliminating from view one very important part of the Arab League’s raison d’etre.
That same founding document – dating from March 22nd 1945 – includes an “annex on Palestine”. At its second session in December 1945 the Arab League declared a formal boycott of “Jewish products and manufactured [goods] in Palestine”, declaring them to be “undesirable in the Arab countries” and opining that “to permit them to enter the Arab countries would lead to the realization of the Zionist political objectives”.
Having already rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan, the day after Israel declared independence the Arab League issued a statement claiming that its members “found themselves compelled to intervene in Palestine solely in order to help its inhabitants restore peace and security and the rule of justice and law to their country, and in order to prevent bloodshed” – even as five of its member countries’ armies were in the process of invading the nascent Jewish state.
Of course for the subsequent 19 years, Jordan and Egypt occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip respectively, with no attempt made to establish an independent Palestinian state in either of those regions during that time and with the charter of the PLO – established by the Arab League in 1964 – explicitly stating that it had no claims to either of the two areas. Eight Arab League member states were also responsible for the Khartoum Resolutions of 1967.
In other words, possibly the most outstanding product of 69 years of “close co-operation of the member-states” of the Arab League has been the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and – rather than Butt’s touted pan-Arab “unity” – the discriminatory treatment of Palestinian refugees.
“In the year 1959 the Arab League accepted decision number 1457 and this is its text: “Arab states will reject the giving of citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their integration into the host countries.”.”
Given that Gerald Butt’s romanticized cameo of the Arab League totally ignores that major aspect of its existence (as well as its British Foreign Office midwife), it comes as little surprise that his article continues with the unsourced – and most likely unverifiable – assertion that the aspirations driving the ‘Arab Spring’ included “the plight of Palestinians” – which Arab League member countries have deliberately and cynically perpetuated for so long.
“But the hope was that they [“the new regimes”] would at least work together in the common cause of facing shared regional challenges: Israel, the plight of Palestinians, inequality in wealth distribution, youth unemployment, failing education systems, paltry intra-Arab investment, and so on.”
Whilst BBC audiences will certainly not have gleaned much accurate and realistic information about the Arab League from this article, they may at least perhaps have gained some insight into the writings of a former BBC Beirut and Jerusalem correspondent.