Shahid M Amin
THE Final Communiqué issued by the Istanbul Extraordinary Islamic Summit, held on December 13,2017, had three main points. One, it reaffirmed centrality of the cause of Palestine and Al-Quds Ash-Sharif to Muslim Ummah; and renewed support for Palestinian people for a just and comprehensive peace, based on two-state solution. Secondly, it rejected President Trump’s unilateral decision on Jerusalem as null and void and in violation of international law; held the US responsible for consequences of not retracting from this illegal decision; and regarded it as announcement of US withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace. Thirdly, the Summit invited all countries to recognise Jerusalem as capital of State of Palestine. It called upon all States to refrain from supporting US decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel and not to relocate their Diplomatic Missions to Al-Quds. Turkish President Erdogan had taken initiative for holding the extraordinary summit. He denounced Israel and USA without mincing words. No doubt, the meeting of Muslim heads of states and their joint declaration was timely and did send a message to USA that 57 OIC States had been deeply angered by Trump’s unjust and untimely declaration that Jerusalem was capital of Israel and US Embassy would be shifted there.
However, the expectations raised by holding of OIC Summit and Erdogan’s fiery opening speech were not fulfilled. The Summit started with a bang but ended with a whimper. Once again, OIC showed itself to be a paper tiger, which adopts strongly-worded Resolutions but fails to back them up with concrete action. It is not that OIC States have no ability to apply pressure on the US and Israel. The Arab States have used the oil embargo as a weapon in the past. Today, several non-Arab oil-exporting States are also members of OIC, viz. Iran, Nigeria, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia which too could join oil embargo. Muslim oil-exporting countries keep most of their financial investments in Western countries and could use this as a pressure tactic. Even a partial withdrawal of assets could shake Western economies. The OIC Summit could have warned that member States would recall their Ambassadors from Washington and could force withdrawal of US Ambassadors in their countries. The Summit could have called upon Muslim countries that have diplomatic ties with Israel to cut off those relations. It could warn that US firms would not be allowed to bid for contracts in Muslim States, and that existing contracts could be cancelled e.g. during Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, contracts worth $300 billion were signed. None of this was done and no pressure was exercised.
The credibility of Istanbul Summit was also undermined by the decision of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain to send low-level representatives. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the leading countries in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is not only the biggest oil-exporter but is also the custodian of the two holiest cities of Islam. Its representation at level of Minister for Religious Affairs amounted to snubbing the summit. The Saudis reportedly tried to restrain Jordan’s King Abdullah from attending the Summit but he went ahead, because Jordan has a unique association with Jerusalem. Perhaps there were specific reasons for such low-level presence. Egypt is unhappy that its President General El-Sisi was criticized by Erdogan for overthrowing former President Morsi. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have issues with Qatar whose Emir was attending the OIC Summit. More likely, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were unwilling to spoil relations with USA at this time, knowing that the Islamic Summit would be highly critical of America. There are reports that USA and Saudi Arabia are negotiating a possible Arab-Israel settlement in which Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is playing a mediatory role. Another reason for Saudi inactivity could be that Riyadh sees Israel as a potential ally against Iran and is unwilling to take on Israel.
But the foregoing did not prevent other OIC member States from taking concrete steps to pressurize the USA, but they did not. The hard reality is that, apart from Iran which has long been at daggers’ drawn with USA, the other Muslim countries have compulsions not to jeopardize relations with Washington. National interests determine foreign policies of states, and not emotions and ideology. In this particular case, the Muslim ‘street’ is not in tandem with the Muslim ‘palace’ i.e. governments. Leaving aside emotions, the fact is that Muslim anger on Jerusalem is fifty years too late: it should have come when Israel conquered Jerusalem in 1967. Since then, Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital where its parliament, Ministries, offices of President and Prime Minister are located. This is the hard reality, even though the US action is objectionable because it confers legality on Israel’s occupation.
Another hard reality is that the US alone has played an effective role as peace-maker in the Middle East, because it is the only country that can pressurize Israel. Neither Russia nor Europe nor UN could do so. Israel had to withdraw from Egyptian Sinai in 1956 under pressure from President Eisenhower. It again withdrew from conquered Sinai in 1978 under US-mediated Camp David Accords. The US played a role in 1993 Oslo Accords that allowed establishment of Palestinian rule in West Bank and Gaza, occupied by Israel since 1967. Egyptian President Sadat once said that the key to Middle East settlement was held by US. It is the paymaster not only of Israel but is also the major aid-giver to Palestinians. The US thus continues to be a key factor in finding a solution of the Palestinian problem.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.