ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Arab leaders convened on Wednesday in Algeria for the second day of the 31st summit of the largest annual Arab conference, seeking common ground on several divisive issues in the region. The meeting comes against the backdrop of rising inflation, food and energy shortages, drought and soaring cost of living across the Middle East and Africa.
The kings, emirs, presidents and prime ministers are discussing thorny issues such as the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and four Arab countries as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies appear to be heading to an election victory.
The summit’s discussions are also focused on the food and energy crises aggravated by Russia’s war in Ukraine that has had devastating consequences for Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia, among other Arab countries, struggling to import enough wheat and fuel to satisfy their populations.
Deepening the crisis is the worst drought in several decades that has ravaged swaths of Somalia, one of the Arab League’s newer members, bringing some areas of the country to the brink of famine.
Russia’s reinforcement of its blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Sunday threatens to further escalate the crisis, with many Arab countries near solely dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat exports and fertilizers.
The event provides an opportunity for Algeria — Africa’s largest country by territory — to showcase its leadership in the Arab world. Algeria is a major oil and gas producer and is perceived by European nations as a key supplier amid the global energy crisis that stems from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Algeria, along with other Arab countries, remains fiercely opposed to the series of normalization agreements the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco signed with Israel over the past three years have divided the region into two camps. Sudan has also agreed to establish ties with Israel.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune vowed in his opening speech Tuesday to put forth considerable efforts at the summit to try to reaffirm support for the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel as the Arab and international communities’ attention shifts to other conflicts and crises.
“Our main and first cause, the mother of all causes, the Palestinian issue, will be at the heart of our concerns and our main priority,” Tebboune said. He blasted Israel for its “continued occupation” of Palestinian territories and “expanding its illegal settlements.”
Last month, Algeria hosted talks in a bid to end the Palestinian political divide and reconcile the Fatah party, whose Palestinian Authority rules parts of the occupied West Bank, and the militant Hamas group, which has control of the Gaza Strip.
The Arab summit comes at a time of heightened tensions in the West Bank, where the Israeli military has conducted nightly arrest raids in searches for Palestinian militants. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in recent months, including armed gunmen, stone-throwing teenagers and people uninvolved in violence.
The 22-member Arab League last held its summit in 2019, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. A final declaration from the gathering in Algeria’s capital, Algiers, is expected later on Wednesday.
Surk reported from Nice, France.