Millions of people who demonstrated throughout the Arab world did not ask much of their rulers. They simply demanded that the Arab governments live up to their responsibilities, by showing Israel that Palestinians are alone and that the Arab world can take action to curb Israel's disregard for human rights and disrespect for Palestinian life.
Unfortunately, the Arab summit in Cairo dismantled, leaving behind nothing but weak promises and a harsh condemnation of Israel.
From the start, it was evident that the historical gathering of 14 heads of Arab state this past weekend was motivated by the mass rallying of enraged Arabs around the world. Such a fact was affirmed time and again with every speech made by many different rulers at the summit, as they made mention of their peoples' anger, vowing to bow to their will.
But another important variable that was also present, although not declared, was the United States' interests in seeing the so-called moderate Arab voice prevail in the end.
Since the Gulf War, the United States has been successful in neutralizing Arab governments even further, and to keep them from playing any visible role in the "peace process", or from protesting the harsh measures taken against Arab nations such as Iraq, Libya, and Sudan.
The outbreak of the Intifada in the occupied Palestinian territories, which echoed all over the Arab and Muslim world, has presented one of the greatest challenges to Arab governments. Their biggest challenge was to balance their commitment to the United States and to reduce the tension within their nations. The challenge was especially difficult, since the Arab public was keenly aware of the difference between real action and mere words.
Therefore, no matter how harsh the final statement issued by the summit sounded, it was not that different from statements made at past summits. Like the rest, the final statement of the emergency summit in Cairo painfully lacked any practical demands and/or appropriate response to the violence.
It is true that millions of frustrated Arab protestors called on their governments to go to war, so as to end the Israeli army's killing of Palestinians. But one would think that even those angry demonstrators were sadly aware of their government's inability to wage such a war. Nonetheless, they hoped for resolute and practical decisions that would confront Israel and force it to rethink its militant policies in the occupied territories.
One of these actions that could have been taken by the summit was cutting off all diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Such a demand is not as radical as the Americans would have them believe.
Some Arab governments recalled their ambassadors repeatedly from other Arab capitals for seemingly much less significant reasons. Several countries either threatened or in fact recalled their ambassadors out of Qatar for allowing the free-spoken satellite television network, Al Jazeera to broadcast material viewed by some Arab capitals as politically offensive.
And how can we forget the strong Canadian reaction taken when Israeli Mossad agents attempted to kill one of Hamas' leaders, Khalid Mashal, in Jordan? Canada recalled its Ambassador to Israel solely based on the fact that the Mossad members carried forged Canadian passports.
In the meantime, Israel's brutal war against a largely unarmed nation seemed an insufficient reason for a collective decision to cut all ties with Israel.
Some Arab leaders feared that cutting ties with Israel might harm their own ties with the United States. It wasn't entirely coincidental that King Abdullah of Jordan flew to the United States to sign a free-trade agreement with US President Bill Clinton, only one day after the conclusion of the summit. Needless to say, Jordan has kept its ties with Israel despite all.
Another option that Arab leaders could have used or at least could have threatened to use was their economic might due in large part to their wealth of oil and other natural resources. Again, such an option is nothing strange in today's world. The US excels in the use of such weapons at all times, no matter how costly it becomes, not only to the economies of certain nations like Cuba, but to the lives of innocent people, like the Iraqis. And how can one speak of the economic war and fail to mention Israel's economic suffocation of Palestinians, used without interruption since 1967?
The Arab summit's final statement called on many people to do many things. It called on the United Nations and international community to investigate the Israeli massacres, and to form an international tribunal to try Israeli war criminals. It called on Israel to stop its agressions and to withdraw to pre-September 28 lines, and it even called on the Palestinians to continue their resistance. But Arab leaders fell short of calling on themselves to take tangible actions to defend Palestinians.
Although the leaders at the Arab summit clearly chose to value its relationship with the United States over their fellow Arabs and Muslims, the United States remained ungrateful. On Monday, the White House issued a statement calling the Arab League's decision "harsh and unhelpful." What more could the Arabs have done to appease the United States?
The Arab summit in Cairo constituted a golden opportunity for Arab governments to redeem past failures by finally meeting the needs and demands of their people. Likewise, their people were truly willing to march behind their governments to champion the cause of Palestine. Unfortunately, some Arab states failed to face the challenge, leaving Palestinians unprotected, angry, confused and even more disappointed than before.