EU and Arab League seek common ground at first summit

European Union and Arab League members pose for a group photo during a meeting of leaders at an EU-Arab summit at the Sharm El Sheikh convention center in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2019

EU and Arab League seek common ground at first summit

  • King Salman joins other leaders at beginning of historic meeting in Egypt
  • The meeting is intended to strengthen ties and address a wide range common challenges

SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Saudi Arabia's King Salman joined leaders from Europe and the Middle East in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday night for the first EU-Arab League Summit.

“Relations between the Arab world and the EU have a long history at all political, security, economic and cultural levels, as well as geographical interdependence,” he said in his opening remarks. This “necessitates the parties to strengthen their relations in all fields, and achieve the common interests and aspirations of their peoples to ensure a dignified life free from conflict,” he added.

The king said the Palestinian cause is a priority for Arab countries, reminding delegates of the Saudi position and his country’s “firmness” toward restoring all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

The Kingdom stresses the importance of a political solution to the Yemeni crisis on the basis of the Gulf initiative and the results of Yemeni national dialogue and UN Security Council Resolution 2216,” he added.

The king blamed Iran for the current situation in Yemen, saying Tehran’s support for Houthi militias “and others in the region, its aggressive practices and blatant interference in the affairs of other countries,” require “a unified international position to abide by the rules of good neighborliness and international law.”

He entered the summit center with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is co-chair of the two-day meeting with EU President Donald Tusk. 

“I’m aware that there are differences between us. We’re not here to pretend that we agree on everything, but we face common challenges and have shared interests,” Tusk said in his opening remarks. “We’re here to strengthen our cooperation for the benefit of our peoples. We need to do this together and not leave it to global powers far from our region. I look forward to our open and honest discussions over the next two days.”  

The event, attended by delegates from 47 countries, aims to bolster Arab-European ties and address a wide range of common challenges. 

Among the issues on the leaders’ agenda are multilateralism, trade, investment, migration and security.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the gathering in Egypt of around 40 heads of state and government is about much more than migration. EU sources said the first EU-Arab Summit is all the more important as the US “disengages” from the region while Russia and China make inroads. 

“We don’t want to see this vacuum soaked up by Russia and China,” one of the sources told AFP.

There was one plenary session on Sunday night, on enhancing Arab-European partnership and addressing global challenges, before a “family photo” and dinner. 

The summit continues on Monday with a “restricted session” on regional challenges and a second plenary session in the afternoon.

On the sidelines of the summit, Arab News caught up with Saudi Trade and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qasabi. “Having summits like these bridge, bond, improve and enhance communication between the two continents and sides, European and Arab,” he said. 

“There’s no doubt that this is a very positive step and enhances the communication highway. At the end of the day, our political and economic issues are always addressed through such forums.”


Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

Updated 08 December 2019

Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

  • Abdallah Chatila spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler
  • He said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market

JERUSALEM: wealthy Lebanese-Swiss businessman said Sunday he had bought Adolf Hitler’s top hat and other Nazi artifacts to give them to Jewish groups and prevent them falling into the hands of a resurgent far-right.
Abdallah Chatila said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market because of the rising anti-Semitism, populism and racism he was witnessing in Europe.
He spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler, including the collapsible top hat, in a November 20 sale at a Munich auction house, originally planning to burn them all.
But he then decided to give them to the Keren Hayesod association, an Israeli fundraising group, which has resolved to hand them to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.
Chatila told a Jerusalem press conference it had been a “very easy” decision to purchase the items when he saw the “potentially lethal injustice that those artifacts would go to the wrong hands.”
“I felt I had no choice but to actually try to help the cause,” he added.
“What happened in the last five years in Europe showed us that anti-Semitism, that populism, that racism is going stronger and stronger, and we are here to fight it and show people we’re not scared.
“Today — with the fake news, with the media, with the power that people could have with the Internet, with social media — somebody else could use that small window” of time to manipulate the public, he said.
He said he had worried the Nazi-era artifacts could be used by neo-Nazi groups or those seeking to stoke anti-Semitism and racism in Europe.
“That’s why I felt I had to do it,” he said of his purchase.
The items, still in Munich, are to be eventually delivered to Yad Vashem, where they will be part of a collection of Nazi artifacts crucial to countering Holocaust denial, but not be put on regular display, said Avner Shalev, the institute’s director.
Chatila also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visited Yad Vashem.
Chatila was born in Beirut into a family of Christian jewellers and moved to Switzerland at the age of two.
Now among Switzerland’s richest 300 people, he supports charities and causes, including many relating to Lebanon and Syrian refugees.
The auction was brought to Chatila’s attention by the European Jewish Association, which has sought to sway public opinion against the trade in Nazi memorabilia.
Rabbi Mehachem Margolin, head of the association, said Chatila’s surprise act had raised attention to such auctions.
He said it was a powerful statement against racism and xenophobia, especially coming from a non-Jew of Lebanese origin.
Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and Lebanese people are banned from communication with Israelis.
“There is no question that a message that comes from you is 10 times, or 100 times stronger than a message that comes from us,” Margolin told Chatila.
The message was not only about solidarity among people, but also “how one person can make such a huge change,” Margolin said.
“There’s a place for optimism.”