Muslim leaders’ answer to Trump: East Jerusalem
The leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine “under occupation” of Israel after an emergency summit in Istanbul on Dec. 13.
The move came as an answer to the Dec. 6 statement from U.S. President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The Istanbul Declaration, under the title “Freedom for Jerusalem,” calls on all countries to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, to cease supporting the U.S. decision, and to not move their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv as the U.S. has pledged to do. The declaration also called on the U.S. to withdraw its decision or “bear the responsibility for its consequences.”
The declaration was more strongly worded than many expected. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the outcome as a “rare success” of the OIC, thanking Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for making the call to hold the emergency summit.
In his closing speech, Erdoğan said the U.S. had finally lost its ability to serve as a neutral mediator, by encouraging Israel’s “state terror” against the Palestinians. He said the OIC was asking for nothing more than the implementation of U.N. resolutions that were signed by the U.S. itself, including the recognition of the 1967 borders.
Diplomatic observers believed that a stronger stance promoted by non-Arab countries like Turkey, Iran and Malaysia could be diluted by Saudi Arabia, which has recently been seen to be closer to the U.S.-Israeli line (illustrated by the fact that neither the Saudi king or foreign minister joined the Istanbul summit, sending a deputy foreign minister instead).
However, a statement by King Salman bin Abdulaziz issued in the morning hours, saying the Palestinians have “rights in Jerusalem,” changed the mood. It seems that the influence of non-Arab countries in the OIC was effective and it would be hard for Saudi Arabia - as the guard of the Kaaba in Mecca, to which Muslims turn their face while praying (qibla) - to stay indifferent to the seizure of the whole of Jerusalem (which was the first qibla of the earliest Muslims).
It is not likely that Trump will withdraw his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or change his mind in the U.N. debates; after all, the U.S. has single-handedly opposed many U.N. resolutions regarding rights violations by Israel up to now.
However, the Istanbul Declaration is perhaps the strongest voice raised so far against the U.S.-Israeli move and it may open a new page for a new level of diplomacy. It may be worth noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s April 2017 suggestion to “recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel if East Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of Palestine,” in line with U.N. resolutions, is still on table.
It would not be right to say the Istanbul Declaration has further increased tension in the Middle East, as that tension started to escalate with Trump’s original decision.