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Has Trump just delivered Middle East unity?

December 14, 2017 at 9:19 am

Participants pose for a photo during the extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey on 13 December 2017 [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency]

You have to hand it to Donald Trump. It seems that the US President has brought a degree of unity to the Middle East that no one expected — least of all him — when he overturned US foreign policy last week by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What was easier to predict were the violent scenes that followed in the occupied West Bank when hundreds of Palestinian protesters took to the streets to vent their anger, only to be met with live bullets and tear gas fired by the Israeli occupation forces.

Similar anger erupted in towns and cities across the Muslim world. All of the European Union states as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the Trump move. Again, it was all rather predictable, as were the protests and rallies outside Israeli embassies in various capitals. It certainly looked as if the only person on the world stage to welcome the Jerusalem proposal was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, several other events followed which few could have foreseen. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan called an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and by Wednesday, exactly one week after Trump’s announcement, all 57 OIC member states had prepared a draft declaration of their own. They stated bluntly that the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel signals an end to Washington’s participation in the Middle East peace process.

Read: Netanyahu fails to sell Trump Jerusalem recognition in Europe

The statement was read during a joint conference held by the OIC and the Non-Aligned Movement, currently being held in Istanbul. The declaration said, in part, that leaders, ministers and officials from over 50 Muslim countries “declare East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine, and invite all countries to recognise the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.”

It condemned in the “strongest terms” Trump’s decision to make plans to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The condemnation continued by describing Trump’s plan as “a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts, an impetus (for) extremism and terrorism and a threat to international peace and security.”

For the fractious Arab leaders to come together as one with their colleagues in the OIC was surprising. Founded in 1969, OIC member states are rarely in the business of promoting peace and harmony among themselves, but that is exactly what Erdogan’s emergency meeting achieved.

 Read: Trump has pushed Israel to the edge of bloody conflict

The OIC also declared East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine, sweeping aside US observations that this would be “dangerous”, and called upon the international community to follow in its footsteps. The 57-strong group explained that it is committed to the two-state solution. The united response will certainly have raised a few eyebrows across the West as well as in Tel Aviv, where the last thing that Netanyahu and his government want is to see peace and unity breaking out across the Muslim world. Rarely has the OIC spoken so strongly with one voice in world affairs.

Even the unpopular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seemed to find some backbone when he declared that the US had “disqualified” itself from future Israel-Palestine peace talks because it was obviously not an impartial peace broker. It’s taken him a long time to figure it out, but he’s got there at last.

Erdogan’s summit attracted more than 20 heads of state, although Saudi Arabia, which hosts the OIC, only sent a senior foreign ministry official. Others, including Egypt, sent their foreign ministers.

Turkey’s Erdogan will no doubt take the credit for uniting the Muslim world— and he deserves to — but he couldn’t have done it without Trump. This is one story that the US President can’t denounce as “fake news”.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.