Muslim Leaders Declare East Jerusalem as Capital of Palestinian State

Muslim countries declared East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State in the final communique of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit held in Istanbul on Wednesday.

In the gathering that took place at the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Muslim leaders called on the whole world to “recognize the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital” in a snub to Israel and the U.S.

“Israel is an occupying and… a terror state,” President Erdogan said in his opening remarks at the beginning of the summit, which brought representatives of 48 Muslim countries to craft a common response against U.S. President Donald J. Trump‘s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Turkish leader again criticized what he said was a weak Arab response.

“I invite all countries supporting international law to recognize Jerusalem as the occupied capital of Palestine. We cannot be late any more,” Mr. Erdogan said, according to Reuters.

President Trump’s move upended decades of U.S.  foreign policy, defied warnings from a broad range of U.S. diplomatic community and objections pouring in from the Muslim world.

It set in motion a chain of mass protests across the Middle East region, igniting a fiery public backlash and saddling the U.S. mission to broker a two-state solution in one of the world’s protracted conflicts with challenging pitfalls in the future.

The emotional upheaval swept across Islamic world also lent a windfall to some of the aspiring leaders, like Turkish president who tapped into swelling anger among Muslims toward the U.S. by taking the lead in assembling an emergency summit and craft an accord that called for recognition of the Palestinian State.

He accused Mr. Trump of harboring a “Zionist mindset” and said the U.S. would not have any role to play in the peace process in the future.

“The real owner of these lands is Palestine,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Mr. Trump wants all this to be owned by Israel. This is the product of evangelical and Zionist mindset,” he fulminated at the closing session of OIC summit in Istanbul.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was equally unreserved in his sharp criticism of the U.S.

He slammed the American president, saying that Mr. Trump was giving Jerusalem away “as if it were an American city.”

“Jerusalem is and always will be the capital of Palestine,” Reuters quoted the Palestinian leader as saying. He also portrayed President Trump’s decision as “the greatest crime and violation of international law.”

The legal status of the city has been an enduring source of particular friction in the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The Holy City of Jerusalem is regarded as sacred for the three Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — and remains widely contested after Israel moved to occupy it in 1967 war.

Palestinian politicians view East Jerusalem as the capital of any future Palestinian state. The U.S. decision also cast doubt on its future role in efforts to resolve the elusive conflict.

“We do not accept any role of the United States in the political process from now on. Because it is completely biased towards Israel,” Mr. Abbas said, according to AFP.

The U.S. move and subsequent OIC summit have undoubtedly added new layers of confusion to the complex conflict.

“If there are ever two states in Palestine/the Land of Israel, el-Quds must be the capital of Palestine and Yerushalayim will be the capital of Israel,” Ian Lustick, Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, told Turkey Post.

He said: “Since Israel, with US help, is unilaterally asserting claims that imply ambitions beyond the Green Line in el-Quds, Palestinians and their allies, including the ICO, are right to respond in kind, by declaring all of el-Quds, including Jewish settlements that have been established within it, to be the capital of Palestine.”

OIC Communique and Challenges

What would be the real-life impact of the OIC communique remains unclear given the diverse set of factors at play that shapes the course of politics in Palestine and the region beyond.

“I cannot take OIC communique on Jerusalem seriously. Most of the heads of state of the OIC are corrupt dictators who care more about their own political thrones than Palestinian suffering,” Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told Turkey Post.

Expressing doubt that the communique would have any impact in the region, he questioned why the OIC did not act before given the long history of occupation Jerusalem went through.

Jerusalem, he noted, has been under Israeli occupation, in violation of international law, for over 50 years.

“Why did the OIC not act before? During this time, in violation of international law, over 200,000 Israeli settlers have moved into East Jerusalem. What has the OIC done about this?” he said with palpable skepticism about the organization whose structure and efficiency has regularly come under criticism.

The Islamic body is riven by internal disputes, the Sunni-Shia schism and regional rivalries that took the shape of a number of proxy wars among the regional powerhouses, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi King of Salman skipped the summit while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was present.  To the surprise of observers, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro also attended the summit at the special invitation of Mr. Erdogan who spearheaded the entire process.

Iranian leader called on the Muslim world to overcome divisions for a unified front against Israel. Jordanian King of Abdullah said his country would not accept any change in the status of Jerusalem.

Still, the representation by states was modest. Only a handful of countries sent heads of states to Istanbul for the summit while Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and other key players sent low-level diplomats.

On what the summit would achieve, Mr. Hashemi was cautious and even deeply skeptical.

“This is mostly political theatre,” he said. “Once again the dictators and despots of the Islamic world are exploiting Palestinian suffering to deflect attention away from their own corrupt policies at home and abroad.”

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