Islamic nations hold emergency summit on Israel-Gaza violence

The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned Israel’s actions. But Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute, said most Gulf Arab leaders are concerned over Hamas’ rocket fire and view it as “cynical, dangerous, unnecessarily provocative and endangering Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza alike.”

Monday 17/05/2021
A file picture of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan. (AFP)
A file picture of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan. (AFP)

DUBAI – The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation opened an emergency meeting Sunday over the heavy fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Islamist Hamas group, the first major move among Middle East nations still grappling with how to address the conflict.

While the Arab League and organisations like the Saudi-based OIC have maintained their view that the Palestinians should have their own independent state, Israel has recently reached recognition deals with several of its members.

That, as well as the concerns of some nations over Hamas, has seen a somewhat-muted reaction to the attacks as opposed to the full-throated response of decades past.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan called on “the international community to take urgent action to immediately stop military operations.”

“De-escalation and the highest degree of restraint are important to avoid dragging the region to new levels of instability,” said UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy.

Pre-dawn Israeli strikes in the centre of Gaza City on Sunday brought the death toll in Gaza to 181, including 47 children, health officials said. Israel has reported ten dead, including two children.

Palestinian militants began rocket assaults on Israel on Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan.

Israel has retaliated with air and artillery strikes into densely populated Gaza.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians want the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is unrecognised internationally.

“Bleeding wound” 

 “The plight of the Palestinian people is the bleeding wound of the Islamic world today,” Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki of the Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, decried what he called Israel’s “cowardly attacks” at the start of the meeting.

“We need to tell Allah that we will resist to the last day,” he said. “We are facing a long-term occupation. That’s the base of the problem. Crimes are committed against the Palestinians without consequences.”

However, Malki’s Palestinian Authority has no control over Hamas and the Gaza Strip, where the militants seized power in 2007.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu took a similarly hard line.

“Israel alone is responsible for the recent escalation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” Cavusoglu said. “Our warnings to Israel last week went unheeded.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Israel of “genocide and crimes against humanity.”

“Make no mistake: Israel only understands the language of resistance and the people of Palestine are fully entitled to their right to defend themselves,” Zarif said.

Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, didn’t take part in the meeting, which came before consultations at the United Nations over the crisis.

Mixed reactions 

Across the Arabian Peninsula and Arab Gulf states, reactions to the fighting has been mixed. In Qatar, a sponsor of political Islam and home to the Al-Jazeera satellite network, hundreds turned out late Saturday night to listen to a speech by Hamas’ top leader Ismail Haniyeh. He now splits his time between Turkey and Qatar, both of which back Hamas, as does Iran.

“The resistance will not give in,” Haniyeh vowed as bodyguards stood behind him. He added that “resistance is the shortest road to Jerusalem” and that Palestinians will not accept anything less than a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Haniyeh’s advocacy of “armed resistance” from Doha hotels was the subject of much satire by Arabs in social media.

Kuwait’s parliament speaker reportedly spoke with Haniyeh on Saturday, as did Qatar’s foreign minister. So too did General Esmail Ghaani, the head of the expeditionary Quds Forces of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Then there are Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, two Gulf Arab states that reached recognition deals with Israel last year in the waning months of the Trump administration. Those nations, as well as Saudi Arabia, have reiterated their support of Palestinians obtaining their own independent state.

In the island nation of Bahrain, civil society groups signed a letter urging the kingdom to expel the Israeli ambassador over the violence. In the UAE, Emiratis also have expressed concerns.

“The region’s only democracy,” tweeted the Emirati writer and political analyst Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi in writing about Israel’s strike on a Gaza building that housed the offices of The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera.

Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute, said most Gulf Arab leaders are concerned over Hamas’ rocket fire and view it as “cynical, dangerous, unnecessarily provocative and endangering Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza alike.”

That takes the pressure off those Gulf leaders to respond, unlike in other confrontations involving the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site in Jerusalem, or when Israeli settlers force Arab families out of their homes, he said.

“There won’t be much sympathy for what is widely viewed in the Gulf as Israel’s heavy-handed and disproportionate retaliation,” Ibish wrote, “but it will be much easier for Gulf leaders and many citizens to regard the exchanges as a tragic conflagration at the expense of ordinary people brought about by two leaderships over which they have neither control nor responsibility.”