Earlier on Wednesday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting published a draft declaration designed to counter U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israels de facto capital.
The Organization called the Trump administration’s move “null and void,” stating that the U.S. has compromised its position as an “unbiased” sponsor of the Middle East peace talks. The OIC summit, currently held in Istanbul, also saw Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan saying that Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a reward for Israeli “terror acts.”
President Trump following through with a campaign trail promise of formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s de facto capital came as a surprise even to some of the country’s closest allies. While the decision was bid welcome by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been vocal about the fact that violence and tensions that might result from this will drastically affect the wider Muslim world.
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Apart from Erdogan, the officials from 57 Muslim countries were also addressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to BBC, he stated that there will be no peace if the U.S. does not recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. Echoing his statement, Erdogan added that Trump’s decision has the potential to plunge the world “into a fire with no end.”
The status of Jerusalem, home to some of the most sacred sites to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, is the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jerusalem is currently under Israeli occupation, and it has been that way since the 1967 Arab–Israeli War when Israel seized control of the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem from Jordan.
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and maintain their position that the final status of the Holy city is only meant to be discussed in the final stages of the impending peace talks.
Despite the strong Israeli presence in Jerusalem, its sovereignty has never been officially recognized. All foreign countries with embassies in Israel maintain them in Tel Aviv, and President Trump’s plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will be the first time any foreign power erected a formal office on the disputed territory.
OIC Summit adding fuel to the fire
President Trump’s announcement over the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem saw violent protests in the West Bank and Gaza. CBS News reported on hundreds of Palestinians clashing with Israeli forces in what was branded a “day of rage” by Hamas. Hamas, a Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization operating in Palestine, called for Muslims all over the world to “take to the streets” and express their revulsion for President Trump’s decision.
Beirut also saw scores of Lebanese and Palestinian demonstrators clashing with security forces outside the U.S. Embassy. Lebanon holds the world’s largest Palestinian population, with the 450,000 refugees making up nearly 10 percent of its population. The protesters burned the U.S. and Israeli flags, as well as an effigy of President Trump. BBC reported that Lebanese security forces responded to the protesters throwing stones with tear gas and water cannons.
After an Israeli security guard was stabbed in Jerusalem, violence seemed to have tempered down earlier this week. However, the sharp condemnation coming from Muslim leaders at the OIC summit won’t do much good when it comes to keeping violence and tensions at a standstill.
According to Elisabeth Marteu, Consultant Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), President Trump “has lit a fire and left his Arab allies to deal with the blaze.” This statement echoes an almost universal concern seen at the annual Manama Dialogue – that Trump’s announcement will be a gift to the region’s two main adversaries – the jihadists of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
While speaking to BBC, Hadyah Fathalla, an expert on Gulf security and a former Bahrain government official, said: “There are dormant jihadist mentalities who are sitting there thinking ‘I’m not operational but I have jihadist feelings’ so will this push them over the fence?”
Fathalla also added that Iran has had a tendency to use the conflict at Jerusalem to stir up Arab masses and that President Trump’s decision has the potential to strengthen Iran’s support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.
Before finishing up his address to the OIC Summit, Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas called Trump’s announcement a “crime” and called for the U.N. to lead a new set of negotiations in what’s starting to look like an insoluble conflict.