Unmasked in Istanbul

Arab leaders shot themselves in the foot by boycotting the Islamic summit on Jersualem

By Abdel Bari Atwan

It was shameful and disgraceful for most Arab leaders to stay away from the Islamic summit held in Istanbul to discuss the US’ support for Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem its and erasure of the city’s Arab and Islamic identity.

At such a sensitive historic juncture, it had been hoped that they would set political differences aside and rise to the responsibility of responding to this outrage. But they disappointed us as usual and not only declined to take part in the conference, but in some cases reduced the level of their participation to below that of foreign minister.

We ask in all honesty why did Saudi King Salman, self-proclaimed custodian of Islamic holy sites, stay away from the summit? Why was it boycotted by Abdelfattah as-Sisi, president of an Egypt that prides itself as the heavyweight of the Arab world, and Morocco’s King Hassan, who heads the Arab League’s

Jerusalem committee? Are the leaders of distant Asian and African lands more committed to Jerusalem than the Palestinians’ fellow Arabs?

They tell us they are fighting against Iranian/Persian influence which they claim threatens the Arab world. Yet all their policies without exception have served to strengthen Iran’s influence and facilitate its expansion. The same can be said of decision to stay away from the Istanbul summit. It left the stage open for the Turkish and Iranian presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani, to assume the leadership role in the Islamic world and take the side of the Arab and Islamic masses who are seething with anger at this Israeli and American humiliation.

We had expected the summit to adopt concrete measures against the US and Israel, such as closing embassies or withdrawing ambassadors at the very least lest, or imposing diplomatic or economic sanctions. But how could any such measures if key Arab leaders, who are closest to the cause and claim it as their own, declined to take part or even cover the summit in their state-controlled media?

Iran has been makings gains in Yemen, is triumphant in Syria, has expanded its influence in Iraq, successfully thwarted Kurdish secession there, and supports and sustains the resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine. What, in the meantime, have you been doing? Why do you blame Iran when it gains from your errors, your abandonment of the Arab nation’s central cause and your failure to act to defend the holy places? How can you not expect angry demonstrators to torch your portraits and your countries’ flags when you flaunt your normalization with the racist occupier, recast it from enemy to friend, and give your propagandists free rein to revile and renounce the Palestinians and their cause?

True enough, you have issued statements upholding Jerusalem’s Arab identity and condemning Trump for deeming it to be the capital of the Jewish people. But we have seen no actions in support of these words, and actual behaviour has signalled the opposite. Clearly, appeasing Trump takes precedence over the Holy City, and banking on Israel as an ally against Iran is the new faith.

Even more disappointing was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ long and rambling speech at the summit in which the words ‘resistance’ and ‘intifada’ did not feature once. Nor did he mention options such as withdrawing recognition of Israel or suspending or scrapping the Oslo accords and their manifestations on the ground – including the Palestinain Authority (PA) itself and its security cooperation with Israel. Abbas’ speech was a re-run of his earlier address to the UN General Assembly, featuring much bluster and many threats but nothing tangible or practical.

We have always banked on the Arab and Islamic peoples rather than their leaders. It should be stressed that it is not only Trump’s arrogant and shameful decision that will further fan the flames of extremism and terrorism in our region and the world. It is also the collusion and submission of Arab and Muslim leaders and their abandonment of Jerusalem.

The Islamic summit in Istanbul tore off the masks and fig leaves, laying bare all the faces and revealing all the pretences for what they truly are. That in itself was the conference’s biggest achievement.

Arab leaders thought they were side-lining the summit and its participants by staying away. They ended up side-lining themselves, shooting themselves in the foot, and pouring gallons of oil on the fires of hatred towards them, whether among their own peoples or the Arab and Islamic masses in general. Well done to them.