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Arab Summit Calls on Israel to Withdraw From Occupied Territories

With the Arab world facing pressing issues, including massive demonstrations in Beirut, the Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon and democratic reform, the Arab League summit opened Tuesday focused on just one issue: renewed calls for Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territories in return for normalization of relations.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Tuesday that Israel believes relations with the Arab world will be normalized without concessions. He said commitments must be met with commitments, including an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories and creation of a Palestinian state.

The comments were made following the rejection of a Jordanian proposal for Arab states to begin normalizing relations with Israel prior to an Israeli withdrawal, as part of a broad peace initiative.

The summit is expected to once again endorse a Saudi land-for-peace proposal adopted by the Arab League three years ago that was rejected by Israel.

Eight kings and presidents from 22 Arab League members failed to attend the summit, opting instead to send representatives.

And despite issues including democratic reform and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the summit is, instead, also focusing much of its attention on reform within the League itself. Formal approval is expected for the establishment of an non-elected Arab parliament that will act as a consultative body for the Arab League.

But, according to the head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, reform within the Arab League will not mean much change.

"No Arab state is really interested in surrendering sovereignty to the Arab League,” he said. “But, there is some pressure from Amr Moussa to modernize institutions. So, I think it is going to be performance changes, but we are not going to see a revamped, stronger, super national organization anytime soon."

Mr. Baroudi says that even though the League decided not to include more pressing issues on its current agenda, he says that does not mean they are being overlooked. He says the Arab League summit provides Arab leaders with a venue to hold private, behind the scenes discussions where differences can be ironed out and more substantial agreements can be reached.

Even so, the Arab League has increasingly been criticized by political leaders and media throughout the Arab world for failing to deal with the major issues facing the region.