Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey.
(photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called in Istanbul on Wednesday for unity among Muslim nations in opposing US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Palestinian leader Abbas says Trump's 'crime' over Jerusalem precludes US peace role (Reuters)
However, the attendees at the emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation were not unified. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates did not attend, sending a message that they would not be standing shoulder to shoulder with Iran.
Eighteen heads of state attended the meeting, including those of Azerbaijan, Qatar, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan. In addition the prime ministers of Malaysia and Pakistan came to Istanbul. Leaders of several weak and failed states, such as Yemen, Somalia and Libya, showed up as well.
Lower-level attendance was common from the allies of Saudi Arabia, the same group that cut relations with Qatar in June.
The Egypt-Saudi-UAE alliance represents a new Arab core in the Middle East. In the strictest sense it opposes Iran and Iran’s proxies such as Hezbollah.
However, this alliance also opposes Qatar because it views Doha as supporting extremism and terrorism, by which it means the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Turkey has recently grown closer to Iran, first via its alliance with Qatar, which it sent troops to protect in July, and also via its discussions on Syria that it had with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran at Sochi in November.
Turkey has hosted Hamas and supported Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, even after he was deposed in 2013.
These countries are not on the same side in Yemen either.
There, Iran is with the Houthis and Qatar’s media highlights the civilian casualties in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun attended the Istanbul summit as well. He is an ally of Hezbollah.
Outside the Turkey-Qatar-Iran and Egypt-UAE-Saudi groups are countries that straddle the fence.
King Abdullah of Jordan was in Turkey on the day of Trump’s Jerusalem announcement last week and it is clear that he and Abbas see Erdogan as a key ally on the Jerusalem issue.
Jordan and Turkey are also on the same side in Syria. Ostensibly Saudi Arabia is also on their side in Syria, which adds a layer of complexity to a complex region. Kuwait is an ally of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but it too seeks to go its own way on the Qatar dispute. It is too geographically close to Iran not to know that it can be destabilized more easily than Riyadh.
Why was attendance so weak from Central Asia and Africa? In Africa the OIC only garnered the heads of tiny Togo, Djibouti and Guinea.
Of the five “stans” in Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan sent parliament speakers, it appears the other three didn’t. Russia and Venezuela sent observers.
The poor attendance was not lost on commentators.
Dr. Ali Bakeer, an analyst on the Middle East, noted that news media in Saudi Arabia showed the weather and economic news as Erdogan spoke. Ammar Ali-Qureshi, who tweets about a variety of topics, noted that in 1969 arson against al-Aksa Mosque had been a catalyst for founding the OIC, yet today the “low key attendance” by some members was telling.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia made a point of addressing his Shura council during the OIC meeting.
“The kingdom has called for a political solution to resolve the regional crises. Foremost of which is the Palestinian issue and the restoration of the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights, including the right to establish their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital.” The reference to “east Jerusalem” is a clear indication Saudi Arabia accepts the concept of Israel’s capital in west Jerusalem.
The fallout from the OIC meeting is that its decisions on Jerusalem will lack wholehearted support from key play players in the region.
The growing divisions in the region come as the war against Islamic State ends and the Syrian civil war seems to slow into a frozen conflict.
In some ways it appears Iran has been successful in its outreach to non-Shi’ite states such as Turkey and Qatar. It would like to use the Jerusalem issue to solidify this pan-Islamic unity and fuel tensions on the border with Israel.
That Jordan and the Palestinians are seeking leadership from Ankara, as opposed to Riyadh, is not encouraging for Israel. This is especially true given the Turkish president’s comments calling Israel a “terror state.” This could leave Riyadh more isolated unless it can achieve some kind of success, either in Yemen or elsewhere.