ARAB LEAGUE

ARAB LEAGUE, league of Arab states comprising 22 members. The League was founded in March 1945 in Cairo as a regional organization by the then seven independent or almost independent Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen). Its foundation was a result of two conflicting processes. One was the Pan-Arab ideal, which had gained immense popularity since the 1920s and called for political unity of all Arabic-speaking peoples. The second was the formation and perpetuation of the state system (a "West-phalian order") in the Middle East and the struggle for regional hegemony among these states. Thus, despite the fact that Arab nationalism was the ideological force behind the process that led to the establishment of the League, in practice the League sanctified the existence and sovereignty of the Arab states. Hence, the term "Arab unity" was not even mentioned within the League's charter and decisions did not have binding force among the League's members. It reflected the fact that member-states had conflicting interests which impaired their ability to cooperate politically within the framework of the Arab League and forced them to find the lowest common denominator as grounds for cooperation. At first the League enjoyed respect. Yet with time and as a result of its inability to coordinate any serious pan-Arab action, it gradually lost prestige. From 1964 the League served as an organizational framework for Arab summit meetings. Although the Council of the Arab League, headed by the member-states' foreign ministers, was scheduled to meet twice a year, Arab summit meetings were irregular and dependent on the problems of the day.   Since its foundation, the League has made Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict its most important axis of engagement. The Charter of the League contains a special appendix relating to Palestine, committing its members to support the Palestinians in their national struggle for independence. The League was also involved in coordinating the Arab front in the 1948 war. The Arab defeat in that war symbolized the poor performance of the League and the inability of the Arab states to cooperate successfully even for the Palestinian cause. Palestine remained the most important issue on the League's agenda. Nevertheless, the League was never able to translate its preoccupation with this subject into an effective political agenda. The attitude of the Arab League towards the Palestinian problem and Israel reflected the changes these two related issues underwent. Until the 1970s the League officially did not recognize the State of Israel and advocated the resolution of the Palestinian problem only within the context of Israel's annihilation. Yet, after the 1967 war and the gradual change in the dynamics of the conflict that led to a slow implicit recognition of Israel, the League started to change its tone as well. Thus, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the League's headquarters were moved from Cairo to Tunisia, and Egypt was stripped of its membership. Yet gradually the League's members reestablished their ties with Egypt and by 1990 the League's headquarters returned to their original location. In addition, the League's official declarations, as manifested in the 2002 Beirut summit, even offered an official Arab peace plan which recognized Israel within its pre-1967 borders in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state and a solution to the refugee problem based on un Resolution 194. The May 2004 Tunis Arab summit reflected the challenges the League's member-states faced after the American occupation of Iraq. The summit's resolutions reiterated the call for a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace based on the 1967 borders. They also called for amending the League's charter to improve its effectiveness and to conduct internal political reforms in each state based on universal democratic values. Although the wording of these resolutions was promising, in reality they did not produce major changes either in the League's structure or in the political systems of its member-states. -BIBLIOGRAPHY R.W. MacDonald, The League of Arab States: a Study in the Dynamics of Regional Organization (1965); H.A. Hassouna, The League of Arab States and Regional Disputes: A Study of Middle East Conflicts (1975); T.Y. Hasou, The Struggle for the Arab World: Egypt's Nasser and the Arab League (1985); B. Maddy-Weitzman, The Crystallization of the Arab State System, 1945–1954 (1993); M.N. Barnett, Dialogues in Arab Politics (1998); A. Sela, The Decline of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Middle East Politics and the Quest for Regional Order (1998); M. Hudson, (ed.), Middle East Dilemma: The Politics and Economics of Arab Integration (1999). (Asher Kaufman (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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