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Algeria president urges unity at Arab League summit to confront ‘tensions and crises’

Algeria president urges unity at Arab League summit to confront 'tensions and crises'

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By Ezzedine Said

Algiers, Algeria – Algeria's president called Tuesday for Arab unity to face escalating "tensions and crises" as he opened the first Arab League summit since a string of normalisation deals with Israel divided the region.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune told the meeting's inaugural session that "our central and primary cause remains the Palestinian cause".

The Algerian president also warned that "exceptional global conditions are creating polarisation… which is impacting our food security", without directly mentioning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"The regional and international context (is) marked by rising tensions and crises, particularly in the Arab world, which in its modern history hasn't seen a period as difficult as the one it is currently undergoing," he added.

Tuesday's summit, the first since 2019, had been postponed multiple times due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the meantime, several members of the 22-member bloc – for decades a forum for strident declarations of support for the Palestinian cause – have normalised ties with Israel.

The United Arab Emirates went first in a historic US-mediated deal establishing full ties with the Jewish state.

That sparked a similar accord with Bahrain, a provisional deal with Sudan and a re-launch of ties with Morocco, helping rekindle the kingdom's decades-old rivalry with neighbouring Algeria.

Algiers remains a steadfast supporter of the Palestinians, even mediating a reconciliation between rival factions in October.

The deal was seen as a public relations coup for Tebboune as he seeks more regional clout for Algeria on the back of its growing status as a gas exporter in a supply-starved global market.

'Comprehensive peace'

Tebboune did not directly mention the normalisation deals. But he insisted that a 2002 Arab initiative proposing peace in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from land it occupied during the 1967 Six Day War was the only way to reach "a just and comprehensive peace".

The two-day meeting coincides with elections in Israel that could see hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu return to power.

Addressing leaders including United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, Tebboune called for a UN General Assembly session to give full membership to the state of Palestine.

The Algiers summit is another opportunity for Tebboune to push his agenda forward, despite high-profile Arab leaders being absent.

"Algerian foreign policy has gone on the offensive at the regional, African and Arab levels," said Geneva-based expert Hasni Abidi.

Tebboune has rolled out the red carpet for his guests, including his Egyptian, Palestinian and Tunisian counterparts Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Mahmud Abbas and Kais Saied, as well as Qatar's leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

But UAE ruler Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan stayed away, instead sending the country's vice president, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

The main roads of Algiers were decked out with national flags and huge billboards welcoming "brother Arabs", ahead of a dinner hosted by Tebboune.

Charm offensive

But Algeria has also been unnerved by Morocco's security and defence cooperation with Israel, adding to decades of mistrust fuelled by a dispute over the Western Sahara.

The status of the former Spanish colony, considered a "non-self-governing territory" by the UN, has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front since the 1970s.

In August 2021, Algiers cut diplomatic ties with Rabat, alleging "hostile acts".

With conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen also on the agenda, sources say foreign ministers are trying to reach consensus on the wording around Turkish and Iranian "interference" in the region — and whether to mention Ankara and Tehran by name or not.

"The paradox of this summit is that it's being billed as a unifying event, whereas each Arab state actually has its own agenda and goals fitting its interests," Abidi said.

"So ultimately the Arab League is the perfect mirror of Arab foreign policy."

That point is underlined by the absence of several key figures, notably Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reported to have an ear infection, Morocco's King Mohammed VI, and Bahrain's leader.

"The Arab states which have normalised with Israel are not enthusiastic about the idea of a coming together to condemn their position," said Abidi.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin sent a message saying Moscow was committed to cooperation with the League to boost "security".

He called for conflicts to "be resolved on the basis of generally accepted international law and a commitment to strict respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries".

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