ISTANBUL — Islamic leaders on Wednesday urged the world to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and said the United States no longer had any role to play in the peace process.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened in Istanbul an emergency summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic body, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), seeking a coordinated response to the recognition by US President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
With the Islamic world itself mired in division, the summit fell well short of agreeing on any concrete sanctions against Israel or the United States.
But its final statement declared “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine” and invited “all countries to recognize the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.”
They declared Trump’s decision “null and void legally” and “a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts” that would give impetus to “extremism and terrorism.”
They also said Trump’s move was “an announcement of the US administration’s withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace” in the Middle East, echoing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector, which the international community regards as annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state.
In an address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump said that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
Trump, whose declaration was hailed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Erdogan — who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause — denounced Israel as a state defined by “occupation” and “terror,” in a new diatribe against the Israeli leadership.
“With this decision, Israel was rewarded for all the terrorist activities it has carried out. It is Trump who bestowed this award even,” said Erdogan, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the OIC.
He said all countries who “value international law and fairness” should recognize “occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine,” saying Islamic countries would “never give up” on this demand.
Using unusually strong language, Abbas warned that there could be “no peace or stability” in the Middle East until Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Moreover, he said that with Trump’s move the United States had withdrawn itself from a traditional role as the mediator in the search for Mideast peace.
“We do not accept any role of the United States in the political process from now on. Because it is completely biased towards Israel,” he said.
Abbas slammed the recognition by Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a “gift” to the “Zionist movement” as if he “were giving away an American city,” adding that Washington no longer had any role to play in the Middle East peace process.
But bridging the gaps in a Muslim political community that includes arch-rivals Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran was always a tall order, let alone announcing any concrete measures agreed between the 57 OIC member states.
Several key players, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were unlikely to want to risk their key relationship with Washington for the sake of an anti-Washington OIC statement.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Lebanese President Michel Aoun were among the heads of state present, as well as the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait and presidents of Afghanistan and Indonesia.
Saudi representation — critical if the final statement is to carry long-term credibility — was only at the level of a senior foreign ministry official.
“Some countries in our region are in cooperation with the United States and the Zionist regime and determining the fate of Palestine,” seethed Rouhani, whose country does not recognize Israel and has dire relations with Saudi Arabia.
But as the summit was being held, Saudi King Salman in Riyadh echoed the calls over Jerusalem, saying it was the “right” of the Palestinians to establish “their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and war crimes, was also in attendance and warmly greeted by Erdogan.
A surprise guest was Venezuela’s leftist President Nicolas Maduro, whose country has no significant Muslim population but is a bitter critic of US policy.
Trump’s announcement last week prompted an outpouring of anger in the Muslim and Arab world, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets to denounce the Jewish state and show solidarity with the Palestinians.
The decision sparked protests in the Palestinian territories, with four Palestinians killed and hundreds wounded in clashes and Israeli airstrikes carried out in response to rocket fire from Gaza.
Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, last week called for a new intifada against Israel and urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers. The Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for days of rage in response to Trump’s declaration.