Did Erdoğan gain more than the Palestinians at the OIC summit?
Time will tell if the Palestinians got anything concrete out of the extraordinary summit of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), held in Istanbul on Dec. 13 following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call in his capacity as OIC term president.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas seems happy enough with the results of the summit, which in its final communique also declared East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. This was what Turkey also wanted and pushed hard for in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that Washington would recognize Jerusalem as the undivided legal capital of Israel.
However, Abbas must know that the OIC’s recognition has no meaning until it can be translated into concrete actions that can counter Washington’s Jerusalem decision.
In the final analysis, the OIC only repeated the obvious, as there is not a single OIC member that has not accepted East Jerusalem as the de facto capital of Palestine, pending its de jure recognition following a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
Put another way, there is no Islamic country that will try to open an embassy in East Jerusalem to fulfill the ultimate implication of the OIC declaration. Looked at realistically, the OIC response to Trump’s move was the minimum that could be achieved because none of its members, including Turkey, are prepared to impose sanctions on the U.S.
OIC members could accept this declaration without any reservation because it places no burden on them, and does not force them into any new commitment.
Regardless of what the Palestinians got, it is clear is that Erdoğan got what he wanted out of the OIC summit. He is now using this to press ahead with his desire to become a pre-eminent Islamic leader pushing for the liberation of Jerusalem from Israeli occupation. In pursuing this mission he is also using his familiar rage and pouring vitriol on Israel.
Of course, Erdoğan cannot be too happy with the rebuke he got from Moscow after the OIC summit for calling Israel “a terrorist state,” when Putin’s spokesman said they did not agree with Ankara with regard to Israel.
Nevertheless, he still managed to raise his profile among his domestic and international supporters in the region, at a time when he needs diversions to draw attention away from political and economic problems at home.
Aware of this, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which also claims to be an avid supporter of the Palestinians, is challenging Erdoğan to put his money where his mouth is by upgrading the level of the Turkish Consulate in East Jerusalem to full embassy status.
Erdoğan’s rhetorical response is that this will be done once Jerusalem is no longer occupied. Even if he wanted, however, he could not do this today given that the consulate in question is part of Turkey’s official diplomatic mission to Israel.
Prior to the OIC summit Erdoğan also suggested that Ankara could downgrade the status of its representation in Israel over Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem. However, there are no indications at present suggesting he will do this.
Erdoğan has been down that road before and in the end was forced to normalize ties with Israel - due to a host of unavoidable considerations - without gaining much in return for the Palestinians. It seems he is not prepared to take that path again. He has instead opted to simply huff and puff against Israel, which seems good enough for his supporters, who are generally not prepared to question whatever Erdoğan says or does.
So the OIC summit appears to have served Erdoğan’s purpose for the moment. The Palestinians, on the other hand, will have to wait and see what concrete results they have actually gained from the summit, which Ankara has lauded as a historic turning point brought about by Turkey regarding the Jerusalem question.