This article was published in Arab News on December 18, 2017.
OIC’s rapid response to Jerusalem crisis
President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held last week in Istanbul.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s achievement — in his capacity as the sessional OIC chairman — to convene the summit in such a short time has to be congratulated. Both the level of participation and the tone of the interventions were like in earlier OIC meetings.
Four messages that emerged from the meeting are important: Firstly, the summit renewed its “support for the Palestinian people in their pursuit to attain their rights, including their right to self-determination and the establishment of their independent state on the borders of June 4, 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital.”
This decision further complicates the question of determining what the actual status of the city is. UN Security Council Resolution 181 established Jerusalem as a “corpus separatum” — a separate entity. Jordan occupied East Jerusalem in 1948, Israel declared West Jerusalem as part of the state of Israel the following year and, in 1967, Israel invaded the entire West Bank and extended the occupation to East Jerusalem.
The UN has not rescinded the corpus separatum status of the city or made any effort to establish an international regime for it. Despite this, the UN has never ceased to officially consider Jerusalem as a separate entity.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation reiterates support for Palestinian state, criticizes US move and calls for action from UN — but will it do anything different this time?
Until Trump’s decision, the US administration used to refrain from implementing the Congressional resolutions that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On the other hand, the US and many other countries, including the UK, consider that the status of the city is to be resolved within the framework of the final settlement.
The OIC final communique brings its contribution to the dilution of the corpus separatum status of the city, declaring “East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine.” In light of this decision, will OIC member countries now upgrade their consuls general in East Jerusalem to embassy level in an area that is, theoretically, neither Israel nor Palestine?
Secondly, after the adoption of the communique, three opposition parties in Turkey challenged the government by inviting it to upgrade the existing consulate in East Jerusalem to ambassadorial level. Erdogan then announced on Sunday that “Turkey will soon open an Embassy in [East] Jerusalem.” It is not clear how this embassy will function if the Israeli authorities do not agree to cooperate; how the ambassador will take up his/her post if the Israeli occupation authorities refuse him/her access to East Jerusalem; or how the Israeli authorities will explain to the international community the functioning in the territories under their occupation of the embassy of a state that they do not recognize.
The OIC Summit also “considered this [Trump’s] decision, which aims to change the legal status of Jerusalem, null and void and lacks any legitimacy, as being a serious violation of the international law … particularly the UN Security Council Resolution 478.”
Resolution 478 was adopted after the Israeli Parliament amended the “basic law” (constitution) and altered the international status of Jerusalem. It calls those states that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem “to withdraw such missions from the holy city.” The US abstained during the adoption of this resolution — in other words it did not veto the resolution when it could have done so. Therefore it now has the obligation to abide by it.
Finally, the summit also decided to “take up this grave violation in the UN General Assembly should the UN Security Council fail to act.”
The UN General Assembly is entitled to adopt decisions with two-thirds majority on important questions such as the maintenance of international peace and the expulsion of members.
Many of the points contained in the OIC’s final communique are a reconfirmation of various points that are already part of the member states’ foreign policy.
An important feature of the summit is that it did not decide to take any action that may alter the situation on the ground. Many decisions adopted in various OIC fora in the past were not implemented.
Both Erdogan and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority emphasized after the summit that there is no future role for the US in the peace process because it lost neutrality by clearly siding with Israel. Of course, no country is irreplaceable in the peace process. However, the important leverage that the US has on Israel should not be ignored either.
It is still unclear whether the OIC will do something different this time.