Islamic Bloc Asserts ‘Centrality’ of Jerusalem – But Where Were the Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Iraq …?

By Patrick Goodenough | December 14, 2017 | 4:32 AM EST

Leaders of Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states hold a group photo at a summit in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. (Photo: Turkish Foreign Ministry)

( – An emergency summit of Islamic leaders ended in Istanbul Wednesday with calls on all countries to recognize East Jerusalem as the “capital of the State of Palestine,” in response to President Trump’s recent announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But behind the scenes, the absence of some of the Arab world’s top leaders was striking, especially as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit reaffirmed the “centrality” of the Palestinian and Jerusalem cause “to the Muslim ummah” (global Islamic community).

Protests in the Arab world over Trump’s Jerusalem policy move have been smaller than some had predicted, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the summit host, is hoping to change that.

On the eve of the gathering his foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, observed that some countries’ responses have been “very weak.”

“It seems some countries are very timid of the United States,” he told Turkey’s NTV broadcaster. “If we cannot defend Jerusalem, one of Islam’s three holy cities, what can we defend?”

Although an array of Islamic heads of state or government did take part in the OIC summit, missing were Saudi King Salman, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the emir of the United Arab Emirates and the king of Bahrain.

Those countries instead sent foreign ministers or, in the case of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, ministers responsible for Islamic affairs.

While the final communique’s call on countries to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state is making world headlines, another clause alludes to concerns about insufficient enthusiasm on the part of some unnamed Islamic countries.

The clause urges Islamic countries to make the Jerusalem and Palestine cause “the main issue” in international forums and to ensure that stance is reflected in their votes at the U.N., Human Rights Council, UNESCO and elsewhere.

Then, it warns that “any member state taking a different stance shall be considered to have left Islamic unanimity and should therefore be held accountable.”

Arab leaders who did attend the OIC summit included Jordan’s King Abdullah, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Kuwait emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Qatar’s emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

They were joined by Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, Sudan’s ICC-indicted President Omar al-Bashir, the prime ministers of Malaysia and Pakistan, among others.

The summit declaration unequivocally rejected Trump’s Dec. 6 policy announcement, rejecting it as “null and void” and saying that it was being seen as “an announcement of the U.S. administration's withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace.”

The summit participants also condemned what they called “the full and unjustified bias of the U.S. Congress in favor of the imperial and racist policies and practices of Israel.”

‘Holy Palestinian city’

In a lengthy speech, Abbas said there could be no peace in the region or the world unless Jerusalem was the capital of a Palestinian state.

He described Jerusalem as “a holy Palestinian city” and claimed that “since it was founded by the Canaanite Jebusites 5,000 years ago” it had not been and would not be anything other than “the capital of our independent state.”

As a matter of historical fact, there has never been a sovereign Palestinian state. Jerusalem has not served as the capital of any nation other than the Jews – in the State of Israel since 1948, and some 3,000 years earlier, when King David declared it to be the capital of the kingdom of Israel.

When the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas now heads, drafted its founding charter in 1964 (and amended it in 1968, after Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan), the document contained not a single reference to Jerusalem.

The Islamic claim to Jerusalem is based on the belief that Mohammed rode on his magical winged steed, al-Buraq, from “the sacred mosque” in Arabia to “the farthest mosque” during his “night journey” (sura 17, the Qur’an).

Scholars say the “farthest mosque” became identified with Jerusalem, and specifically the location today of the al-Aqsa mosque – on the site of the first and second Jewish Temples.

Apart from the reference to the “farthest mosque,” there is no mention in the Qur’an to Jerusalem. By contrast, Jerusalem appears more than 600 times in the Old Testament, and more than 150 times in the New Testament.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses an Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Istanbul on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. (Photo: Turkish Foreign Ministry)

In his address at the summit, Erdogan labeled Israel a “terror state” and said Trump’s announcement rewarded it for its actions.

Turkey’s Islamist leader is a long-time supporter of Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.

White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster was quoted Tuesday criticizing Turkey (as well as Qatar) for their role in sponsoring and funding extremist ideology.

Speaking at a Washington event hosted by the U.K.-based think tank Policy Exchange, McMaster said the rise of Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) had contributed to “Turkey’s drift from the West.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow