Editor’s Pick

AP Photo
01 February, 2022

On 4 February 1969, in Cairo, Yasser Arafat (second from left) meets with Gamal Abdel Nasser (centre) during an assembly of the Palestinian National Council, the legislative arm of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The council appointed Arafat the chairman of the PLO on that day.

Near the end of the Second World War, a handful of West Asian states came together to form the Arab League, a regional confederation espousing Arab nationalism and unity. The future of Palestine was one of its most immediate concerns. In 1947, with the approaching end of the British Mandate for Palestine, the United Nations passed a resolution for the partition of the territory into independent Arab and Jewish states. The Arab League protested furiously, and its members, with Egypt at the fore, coordinated forces in a war against the newly created state of Israel in 1948.

After Israel defeated Arab forces, the Arab League continued its support for the Palestinian cause. Nasser, who took power as president of Egypt in 1954, played a key role when the Arab League initiated the creation of an organisation to represent the Palestinian people, in 1964. This marked the birth of the PLO. Arafat, a committed Arab nationalist and veteran of the 1948 war, became the organisation’s third chairman and would hold the position until shortly before his death, in 2004.

The Arab League, riven by the competing interests of its growing membership, has not remained as steadfast on Palestine since its early years. Following another Israeli victory over Arab forces, in 1967, the League had issued a resolution reasserting “the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country” and promising “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s successor, broke ranks to sign the Egypt–Israel peace treaty in 1979, prompting his country’s suspension from the League for a decade. By the time Jordan signed its own peace treaty with Israel, in 1994, it did not face any sanction. In 2002, the Arab League endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes an end to the conflict between Israel and the Arab states. Numerous Arab League members have moved to normalise relations with Israel in recent years.