OIC’s Istanbul summit a positive step forward

By Abdullah al-Ahsan

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in its latest Extraordinary Summit Conference held in Istanbul last Wednesday, Dec. 13, declared East Jerusalem the capital of the State of Palestine. This is a remarkable development.

Although Muslims active in social media seem to have robustly welcomed it, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sarcastically reacted, saying: “All these statements fail to impress us.” He was perhaps referring to related statements by the Summit chairman, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as well as a number of other Muslim leaders attending the Summit.

But why is Netanyahu disregarding so many Muslim leaders so confidently? This question demands serious reflection. One should revisit OIC records in this context.

The OIC came into existence in 1969 in response to an arson attack on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Israel had already occupied two years previously. Since then the OIC has adopted numerous resolutions condemning Israel’s aggressive, illegal and rude behavior. During the early years, it resolved to launch diplomatic jihad, economic jihad and jihad in many other fields in support of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. But now, with almost half a century gone by, the OIC is too shy even to use the word ‘jihad’ in its resolutions.

Let us examine the OIC’s record on one or two related issues.

In 1978, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke OIC and Arab League ranks and decided to unilaterally establish diplomatic relations with Israel, the OIC warned Egypt by adopting a resolution, saying:

“The Conference called upon all States and peoples of the World to refrain from extending any military, human or material support that would encourage the continuation of Israeli occupation of Arab territories, and declared that continued support to Israel from those States will oblige Member States to adopt the appropriate attitude against these States. It condemned the position taken by those States that provide Israel with assistance and arms, and considers that the real purpose of submerging Israel with such huge quantities of means of death and destruction is to consolidate Israel as a base of colonialism and racism in the Third World in general, and in Africa and Asia in particular.” [1]

After Egypt violated the OIC’s stance on the issue, the latter not only suspended Egypt from the organization but also adopted a resolution in May 1979, condemning Egypt for its unilateral act. It said:

“[The OIC] CONDEMNS the Camp David Accords, signed in September 1978, as well as the Washington Agreement signed on March 26, 1979 between the government of Israel and the regime in Egypt and considers them a blatant deviation from the provisions of the Charter of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and a violation of International law and United Nations resolutions on Palestine question and the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, rejects all their consequences and effects, and deems them null and void and not binding to the Arabs and the Muslims, particularly the Palestinian people.” [2]

In another resolution, the OIC decided to “suspend the membership of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and all its agencies and bodies up to the time when the reasons that provoked this suspension are eliminated.” [3]

A year later, the OIC not only condemned Egypt with a tougher wording, it also urged member countries to sever all diplomatic and economic relations with Egypt. It condemned “vehemently the Egyptian government for normalizing relations with the Zionist entity, and regard this step as a disavowal of the principles of the Holy Jihad, leading eventually to grave dangers and harm affecting the Muslim Ummah (nation) and its principles, ideals, heritage, culture and civilization.” [4]

But interestingly, within four years, the OIC reversed its stance on the issue and took Egypt back to its fold without providing any credible explanation. [5] Also in 1978, the OIC adopted a resolution not to allow the stationing of foreign troops in their soil to be used against another member state. But within years, some member states broke that commitment. Osama bin Laden is reported to have sought legitimacy for his extremist activities by citing these resolutions.

Now the question is, why should Netanyahu not make fun of OIC leaders and its resolutions? Has the OIC not failed to deliver on its promises so far?

“Oh, I see…”?

One should, however, not just raise questions about Netanyahu’s remarks but should also seriously ponder why the state of affairs of the OIC is so pathetic? Why do people refer to the institution as “Oh, I see…”? The answer to this question is a simple one.

The OIC did raise hopes for many people in the Muslim world but it has failed to deliver. It has failed to translate its words into deeds. How has it happened? It is because individual member countries have slowly lost interest in the Palestinian cause, the cause that gave birth to the OIC in the first place.

But how did individual countries lose interest in the issue? Take the case of Saudi Arabia, for example. In 1969, Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Faisal ibn Abdulaziz (1906-1975) was one of the strongest supporters of the OIC. The OIC’s first Secretary General, Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman (1903-1990) repeatedly said that without the King’s support, it would not have been possible for him to make the institution functional.

The OIC had decided to establish its headquarters in Jerusalem, but since the territory was under Israeli occupation, on King Faisal’s request, it was decided that the headquarters would be temporarily located in Jeddah until Jerusalem was freed from Israeli occupation.

Saudi Arabia enjoyed the support of many other member countries because of its stance on the Palestinian cause. In 1973-74, through the October/ Ramadan war and an OPEC oil embargo, Saudi Arabia made significant contribution to the Palestinian cause.

Lack of transparency and accountability

However, the situation has since changed dramatically. Israel has made inroads into internal politics of many OIC-member countries, successfully turning the tide in many countries. This has been possible because of the lack of transparency and accountability in these countries. In Saudi Arabia, particularly under the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz, special arrangements were made to make Saudi Arabia the destination of Trump’s first overseas visit. The visit has hardly served to alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinians or Muslims in other parts of the world.

Saudi Arabia’s neglect of the Palestinian cause has been glaring in its approach toward the latest OIC Extraordinary Summit conference held in Istanbul. It sent a very insignificant delegation to represent the country. The Jeddah-based OIC’s website covering the news about the Extraordinary Summit has failed [6] even to name the Turkish president, the chairman of the Summit. Therefore, the OIC must be rescued from the Saudi sway. But how? Who will lead?

Turkey most competent member

At the moment Turkey seems to be the most competent member to lead the OIC out of the current quagmire under Saudi influence. Providence has put Turkey at the helm of affairs. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has already announced steps to implement the Istanbul call to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. “Recognition of the Palestinian state is in line with UN decisions. We will strive for recognition of East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital,” he is reported to have said. [7]

Following the foreign minister’s statement, the Turkish president’s spokesperson noted: “Turkey’s consulate in East Jerusalem [8] has already been serving as an embassy.”

Since his storming out of a Davos [9] panel held for Gaza in 2009, Erdogan has gained huge popularity. Turkey’s transformation under Erdogan’s leadership from an internationally indebted country to a major aid donor has attracted the attention of many OIC countries. It is, therefore, time for the rest of the OIC members to come forward. They should do this not only to support the Turkish initiative; but primarily to make their own countries self-sufficient and independent in the real sense.

The issue of Palestine is very popular in OIC countries: here in Malaysia where I live, both the government and the opposition are competing against one another to demonstrate their care for Palestine by holding demonstrations against Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.

The first step that the OIC needs to undertake, even before the issue is taken up at the UN, is to move its own head office to the originally intended spot: Jerusalem. If Turkey is able to maintain its consulate office in East Jerusalem, the OIC should also be able to maintain its office in the city, at least symbolically. Moving the OIC head office to Jerusalem will also enhance the original 1947 UN plan of internationalization of the city. The faster other OIC countries follow Turkey’s example, the better it will be for their own future.

Humiliation a catalyst for extremism

In the 1970s, the OIC had created hopes, but during the following decades those hopes were dashed.

Humiliations by occupying forces have followed. Israeli humiliations of the Palestinians now have spread to humiliation by NATO troops in Afghanistan, by U.S. forces in Iraq, by Indian forces in Kashmir, by Myanmar forces in Arakan/Rakhine, and sometimes by Muslim forces on Muslim masses with the support of outside forces.

That is why there has been a surge in extremism in the Muslim world since then. OIC leaders will be better off if they genuinely and sincerely subscribe to Quranic values of human dignity, accountability, and transparency, and translate them into action. Acting on the decision of the Extraordinary Summit conference will only be the beginning of that process.

Dr. Abdullah al-Ahsan is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)

20 December 2017