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Arab League Opens Two-Day Summit in Algiers

The 22-member Arab League opens a two-day summit in Algiers, Tuesday, but as many as eight Arab heads of state will not be attending. And, despite the pressing issues of democratic reform in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict; and the Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon, the summit is instead expected to focus much of its attention on reforms within the Arab League, itself.

At the top of the agenda is a revived plan for peace that would give Israel the chance to normalize relations with the Arab countries, in return for a complete pullout of land captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed.

Three years ago, Israel rejected a similar land-for peace proposal put forth by Saudi Arabia.

A Jordanian initiative that called on Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel, before a complete Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands, was dismissed by Arab League foreign ministers. Instead, league members are expected to reaffirm their support for the 2002 Saudi initiative that promises normalized relations, after Israel withdraws from captured territories.

In the meantime, the Arab League is not expected to address some of the most-pressing issues in the region, including the Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon. According to the head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University, Sami Baroudi, what goes on between Syria and Lebanon is a matter of internal politics.

"There is an agreement between the governments of Syria and Lebanon that they do not want that issue to come to the discussions with the Arab League," said Sami Baroudi. "And, I do not think any Arab country can really put this on the agenda, given that the government of Lebanon does not want it to be on the agenda. Anyway, we know that, informally, that it was discussed between the Saudis and the Syrians and probably between the Egyptians and the Syrians, but it will not come to the actual deliberations of the heads of state."

The league is expected to adopt language offering some supportive words for Syria, against pressure from the United States.

Although democratic reform is being widely discussed throughout the Arab world, the issue will not be addressed by the Arab League. Instead, league officials have said they will discuss democratic reforms within the Arab League, itself, including the formation of a non-elected Arab parliament. The parliament would act as a consultative body for the league.