Amid Regional Turmoil and Terrorism, Islamic Bloc Plans Special Summit – on ‘Palestine’

By Patrick Goodenough | March 1, 2016 | 4:18 AM EST

A meeting of Organization of Islamic Cooperation foreign ministers in May 2015. (Photo: OIC)

( – At a time when the conflict in Syria is fueling sectarian enmity across the Middle East, and instability and terrorism rattle countries from Iraq to Yemen to Libya, the bloc of the world’s Islamic nations is holding an “extraordinary” summit at the weekend – focusing on “Palestine.”

The gathering of ministers and heads of state and government in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, only the fifth “extraordinary” summit in the 47-year history of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has been called at the request of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The 57-member OIC’s Saudi Arabia-based secretariat said the summit aims to explore a “strategy to counter the continuous illegal occupation and apartheid policies by the Israeli government, as well as to advance the peace process and to resolve the situation in Al-Quds Al-Sharif [Jerusalem].”

It said the “urgent” situation affects not just the Palestinian people, but the worldwide Islamic ummah, or global community.

Samir Bakr Diab, the OIC’s “assistant secretary-general for Palestine and Jerusalem,” said the event would seek to unite Islamic states in the face of Israel’s “riding roughshod” over international agreements.

By holding it in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic nation, the summit would have the effect of mobilizing the world’s Muslims behind the Palestinian cause, he said.

The summit will end with agreement on a “Jakarta Declaration,” including commitments by Islamic states to “pursue concrete steps in support of Palestine” and Jerusalem.

Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia Fariz Mehdawi said the summit would serve as a reminder to the United States, Russia, the U.N. and the European Union (E.U.) – the four parties to the so-called Mideast Quartet – of the seriousness of the situation in Jerusalem.

In the run-up to the event, OIC ambassadors are holding “urgent” preparatory meetings – at the U.N. in New York, the E.U. in Brussels, and on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

“As [the] Muslim world drowns in internecine bloodbath, it’s nice the 56-state OIC Islamic bloc can unite – against Israel,” Geneva-based U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer tweeted in response to the planned summit.

Support for the Palestinian cause has been a defining component of the OIC since it was established in 1969. The Palestinian issue is the only one mentioned by name in the preamble of the OIC Charter.

Still, the Jakarta summit on March 6-7 comes amid a conflict in Syria that has cost the lives of more than 250,000 people – the vast majority Muslims – triggered the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, fueled Sunni-Shia hatred from Lebanon to the Gulf and beyond, and is impacting Islamic countries from Turkey to South Asia.

Meanwhile around 6,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the civil war in Yemen, including victims of Shi’ite Houthi militias and victims of a Saudi-led airstrike campaign in support of embattled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. More than 3,000 people have been injured and some 2.5 million displaced.

In Libya, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) is exploiting the chaotic situation in which two rival governments have been tussling for control, and thousands of non-Libyan jihadists are reportedly pouring into the oil-rich country.

And across the region, Sunni militants are carrying out attacks in numerous countries, claiming to be acting in the name of Islam.

‘The central issue for the Arab and Islamic world’

Responding to Indonesia’s invitation for the president of the United Arab Emirates to attend the Jakarta summit, an Emirati foreign ministry official declared that the Palestinian cause is “the central issue for the Arab and Islamic world.”

Yet writing in the Saudi daily Arab News last week, columnist and retired Saudi Navy commodore Abdulateef al-Mulhim observed that crises in Syria and elsewhere have elbowed Israel out of Arab media headlines.

“Israel has almost disappeared from headlines and many people no longer consider Israel as a threat. This is a reality that we have to learn to live with,” he wrote.

“From referring to Israel as the Zionist enemy, the Arab media changed the tone by calling it the Israeli enemy, then we became aware of the term ‘hostile Israel’ and then it was referred to as state of Israel, and now Israel has simply vanished from the Arab media,” al-Mulhim said. “It appears to be no longer on our radar.”

The OIC has held only four previous such special summits since its 1969 founding – in 1997 in Karachi, focused again on the Palestinian issue; in 2003 in Doha, focused on the Iraq war; in 2005 in Mecca, in response to the Mohammed cartoon furor; and in 2012, in Mecca, to discuss the Syria conflict.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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