Three Mecca summits show support for Palestine but no action

First published by TRT World on 2/6/2019

Solidarity will not bring justice for the Palestinians at a time when they have been abandoned by their neighbours.

General view of Arab leaders during the14th Islamic summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia June 1, 2019. ( Reuters )

Islam’s holiest city Mecca hosted three summits in the space of 24 hours as the Custodian of the two holy mosques; King Salman called for emergency meetings of the Arab League (AL) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). 

The two emergency summits were held a day before the planned 14th meeting of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was last hosted in Istanbul just over one year ago.

The summits were held as tensions were raised due to recent attacks on a Saudi oil pipeline and two ships sailing in United Emirates waters and continuing threats from the Houthi rebels against those leading the war against Yemen. They also followed rising rhetoric from the US Administration against the Islamic Republic of Iran, demanding it changes course or faces actions beyond the crippling sanctions it now faces.

The GCC summit was held first, with one issue dominating the event: the perceived Iranian threat. 

It was left to the AL and OIC summits to consider the Palestinian issue. There is of course a link between the Iranian and Palestinian issues in that the Israelis and Americans have succeeded in convincing a number of Gulf states that they share a common danger from Iran with Israel, a state they once considered an enemy but one that now regularly sends delegations to attend economic and sporting meetings held in their capital cities. 

A case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend comes to mind here, when one considers that to date, no Gulf state has full diplomatic relations with Israel, 71 years after its creation.

The Mecca summits came at a difficult time for Palestine and the Palestinians. The Trump Administration is working overtime to deliver wins for Israel it could only have dreamed of securing over several years, if not decades. 

Trump handed the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy in record-time just over a year ago and ended all American fundingto the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA in an attempt to force refugee host countries to absorb the refugees. 

The cuts included an end to support hospitals in East Jerusalem, which provide vital services to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.

If that was not enough, the Administration moved to recognise the illegally occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territories. During a visit to Israel, Trump’s senior advisor on the Middle East and son in Law, Jared Kushner and special representative Jason Greenblatt, handed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a map of Israel, showing the Golan as an integral part of the state. 

Trump signed the map and wrote ‘nice’ pointing at the Golan’s new status according to the Americans. While that same map showed the outline of the West Bank and Gaza, this might be only temporary as Netanyahu seeks to annex the whole or vast swathes of the West Bank to Israel. That map, therefore, could quickly be replaced.

Kushner and Greenblatt were on a trip to Morocco, Jordan and Israel to garner support for their planned ‘workshop’ in Manama Bahrain, due to take place on 25 and 26 June, at which they plan to unveil the first and economic part of the ‘deal of the century’ that will be followed at some point with the political part. 

They have faced much criticism for what many see as putting the cart before the horse in asking the region to buy into the economic part of the plan without understanding how the thorny issues of Palestinian statehood, Jerusalem, settlements or the refugees would be resolved. 

One major criticism of this approach has come not just from the Palestinians but from experienced former members of American Administration negotiating teams, including Martin Indyk and Aaron David Miller.

Greenblatt and Kushner reached Israel the day after Netanyahu finally accepted his failure to form an Israeli coalition government, forcing an election on 17 September. With no mandate to make difficult decisions in the next six months or so, Netanyahu’s hands are tied and so too will be the hands of the US Administration as Trump begins preparations for the upcoming presidential elections.

The impact on the launch of the ‘deal of the century’ will be to kick it into the long grass. PLO General Secretary Saeb Erekat thought the ‘deal of the century’ should now be renamed the ‘deal of the next century’ as he saw prospects for it not only being delayed but quietly dying.

With these developments, it would not have been surprising to see the ‘Manama Workshop’ postponed or cancelled.  However, Kushner and Greenblatt are still pushing ahead with the Manama workshop, which is becoming increasingly illogical based on the lack of support for it from all but Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the host, Bahrain and the absence of the Palestinians.

Speaking at the emergency AL summit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed to the gathering that the Palestinians would be boycotting the ‘Manama workshop’. The Bahraini king was in the room but did not speak.

The Palestinian issue was the second central issue at both the AL and OIC summits, which were held only hours apart. Both summits reiterated the centrality of the Palestinian issue to their nations and committed once again to seeing peace through a two-state solution, which would bring an independent Palestinian state into being, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  

The summits also rejected American actions in favour of Israel reiterating positions taken at their previous meeting in 2018. The OIC went further in its final communique. It not only condemned the “transfer of embassies of the United States and Guatemala to Jerusalem” but also urged all its members to “boycott” countries that have diplomatic missions in the city.

The three Mecca summits came at a difficult juncture for Gulf, Arab and Islamic states, with many facing turmoils, a lack of consistent development, a huge refugee problem and a number of conflicts still unresolved. The Saudi King would have been buoyed by the solidarity shown to the Kingdom and the UAE following the recent attacks.

The Palestinian President would have felt a little less isolated than he had been since the Trump Administration began its dismantling of years of understandings and efforts to bring peace to Palestine and Israel. 

However, the restating of longstanding positions by supporters of the Palestinian cause will not in and of itself bring them justice or peace. They need to see action and a halting of the normalisation of Israel.

Iran’s status as a ‘threat’ to some countries does not justify the race to normalisation with a nation [Israel] that has not implemented a single UN Security Council or General Assembly resolution.

Iran is a member of the OIC and was in attendance at the recent Mecca summit. How is it that this body cannot bring the states that have a problem with Iran together to resolve their differences? 

What is the point in an organisation that has cooperation in its title that cannot bring its members to cooperate to end their difference?

If it committed to doing so, not only would the Yemenis, Syrians and Iraqis see a better future, but the Palestinians would have a united alliance behind them that would help them stand up to Israel and Trump.

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