Shahid M Amin
THE brutal use of force by Israeli forces against Palestinian protestors, along the fence between Israel and Gaza Strip, has resulted in death of about 100 Palestinians. The protests coincided with opening of the US Embassy, for the first time, in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem, were Ivanka Trump drank champagne to celebrate the occasion. The Gaza protests had actually started on March 30, 2018 to mark what is known as “Nakba” or Catastrophe Day, the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who fled or were expelled from their homes when Israel was founded in 1948. At the present time, Palestinians control two autonomous areas: the West Bank, with the State of Palestine, headed by PLO leader President Mahmoud Abbas; and the Gaza Strip controlled by Islamist Hamas party. Unlike the mainstream PLO of Abbas, Hamas does not recognise Israel and has a confrontational stance. In the present instance, Hamas has been urging its followers to attempt to cross the border. Israel has alleged that 40,000 people were taking part in “violent riots’’ at 13 locations along the boundary, a 40-mile long fence, and that it retaliated by opening fire on the protestors.
The scale of casualties resulting from Israeli retaliation against the Gaza protestors has shocked world opinion, and brought angry protests in many Muslim countries and elsewhere. But the UN Security Council has, as usual, been thwarted by US support for Israel and could not hold an emergency meeting on May 15 and thus quashed plans for an international investigation of the Gaza killings. The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain slammed Israel’s reaction to the Gaza protests as ‘’wholly disproportionate” and backed calls for an international enquiry. The UN Human Rights Council did hold a special meeting on May 18 to discuss the “deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory”. 29 countries voted to urgently set up an “independent, international commission of enquiry”. The US and Australia were opposed, while 14 states abstained. Australian officials expressed “sadness and regret about the loss of life and injury and urged Israel to show appropriate restraint” but said that Israel also had legitimate seurity concerns and the enquiry should not be biased. It is notable that US allies in Europe have criticised Israel’s use of excessive force and refused to side with USA.
Against the above background, the response of the Islamic world needs to be examined. Turkey took the lead by summoning an emergency OIC Summit in Istanbul on May 18, 2018. This was the second Summit convened by Turkey in the last six months, the earlier one was in December 2017 to protest against President Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is emerging as the key leader in the Islamic world. He is no doubt dynamic with strong pro-Islam sentiments but his election prospects also get improved by sounding tough on Israel. While addressing the latest Summit, Erdogan accused Israel of “genocide” and being run by an “apartheid state”. He recalled the Nazi genocide against the Jews and said Israel had gone beyond that in its treatment of Palestinians. Addressing the USA, Erdogan said: “I repeat Jerusalem is our red line. It will forever belong to Muslims. We will never give up on our demand for a sovereign and independent Palestine. We cannot be spectators in this situation because it impacts all our futures.” Erdogan said the international community “must stop watching the massacres from the bleachers” and proposed the setting up of an international peace-keeping force.
Jordan’s King Hussein and Iranian President Rouhani also spoke on similar lines. Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was equally critical of Israel. Abbasi also drew attention to another glaring case of violation of human rights, namely, by India against Kashmiri Muslims. However, no one else made any reference to Kashmir. The OIC Summit issued a long Final Communiqué that “reaffirmed the centrality of the Palestinian cause”. The OIC accused Israel of committing “savage crimes” with the backing of the Trump administration, emboldened by the US decision to recogise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The foregoing sounds like a robust Muslim response to Israeli depredations in Gaza. But the fact remains that OIC is like a paper tiger: it thunders against but rarely hits its declared targets. It has the capability to retaliate e.g. it has the oil weapon and can, at least, hit back through diplomatic and financial means. But it hardly ever does so, and this time also the same is likely to happen. For instance, despite all his rhetoric, all that even Erdogan has done in material terms is to temporarily withdraw his Ambassador from Israel. He has done this before as well.
The bitter truth is that the Islamic world is divided, even more today than previously. In the Middle East, a cold war is going on between Iran and Saudi Arabia, backed by their respective allies, drawn on the sectarian Shia-Sunni schism. In the previously united Persian Gulf region, a tussle is going on between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Palestinians themselves are divided between PLO and Hamas. Egypt distrusts the Islamist Hamas while Turkey has sympathy for it. The Syrian war has been going on for the last seven years, with the region’s Muslim countries backing different factions there. Due to its deep rivalry with Iran, Saudi Arabia is suspected to be drawing closer to Israel. At the latest Summit, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Egypt sent low-ranking representatives.
The Summit drew fewer heads of states than before. Even those who came were more influenced by adverse public reaction at home if they were absent from the Summit. Under Trump, the US has drawn closer to Israel, apparently with a view to secure Israeli backing for a peace plan that the US might announce next month. But the Palestinian President has said that the US was no longer acceptable as a mediator, a position also adopted by Erdogan at the latest OIC Summit. However, the relevance of US as mediator remains for the simple reason, as Egypt’s late President Sadat once said, that it alone can influence Israel.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.