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First Pages of Chapter Four: The Palestinian Issue and the Muslim World  2012-2013



Despite the dramatic regional changes in 2012–2013, where the map of regional powers influencing the Palestinian issue saw a reshaping, the Palestinian issue remained a priority across the Muslim world. Two regional players, Turkey and Iran, tried to play a more central role in setting a regional scene to match their interests, a matter that influenced the Palestinian issue.

In this chapter, we will review the major roles played by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) regarding the Palestinian issue during 2012–2013, in addition to two major Muslim countries, Iran and Turkey. We shall also take a closer look at public and official action in Pakistan and Malaysia, as well as Israeli economic relations with a number of Muslim countries.

First: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

Despite changing the name of the organization and its slogan in 2011—ratified in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, based on consensus among the organization members at the Foreign Ministers Meeting—and exhibiting a slogan of cooperation among member countries, the OIC performance toward the Palestinian issue continued along the same lines with no significant change. During 2012–2013, the organization dealt with the Palestinian issue in a manner disproportionate with its international weight as the second largest international organization after the UN. At the same time, such a performance reflected the official bureaucracy of the largest Muslim organization, rendering it ineffective in impacting the state of affairs in the region and passing a rather “ceremonial” impression of its meetings and summits.

During 2012–2013, the OIC continued its international diplomatic support for the Palestinian issue, supporting PA efforts to acquire UN recognition for Palestine as a non-member observer state. In this context, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu considered the decision to be a “historic achievement towards ending the Israeli occupation and the restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” and he added that this political victory “has irreversibly put on record the Palestinian people’s right to statehood.”  The OIC Council of Foreign Ministers had called at its 39th session held in Djibouti on 15–17/11/2012 for all member states to support Palestinian efforts to expand international recognition of the Palestinian state based on the 4/6/1967 borders to all levels, including the UN.

Regarding internal Palestinian relations, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu welcomed the Doha Declaration signed on 6/2/2012 to reconcile Fatah with Hamas, and considered the move to be necessary to gain international support for the Palestinian issue.

The organization continued to condemn Israeli violations against Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, and Ihsanoğlu slammed Israeli settlement building activities on the 1967 territories including East Jerusalem, asserting that it constituted a flagrant breach of international laws and resolutions. He added that such policies as well as the violations of holy sites are blatant assaults on the basic rights of the Palestinian people.

During the 2012 Israeli war on GS, the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers appealed upon the UN Security Council “to assume its responsibility to safeguard international peace and security and… to take the necessary steps to bring an end immediately to Zionist aggression and raids currently being carried out against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.” The Council observed that “these serious acts of aggression are being committed at a time when efforts are continuing to reach a military truce in Gaza Strip and accomplish a comprehensive Palestinian reconciliation.”

In efforts to support the perseverance of the Palestinian people, the OIC Foreign Ministers Council held a conference at the Azerbaijani Capital Baku on 11/6/2013 dedicated to building an Islamic financial “safety net” in support of Palestine. They “committed to finance the plan and contribute to the construction of social projects and adequate infrastructure, pledging to start action on these commitments as soon as possible in coordination with the OIC General Secretariat and in close coordination with the State of Palestine.”

In 2013, Secretary General Ihsanoğlu visited the occupied Palestinian territories on 27/8/2013 as Mahmud ‘Abbas, head of the PA, awarded him the “al-Quds Star” decoration. During his stay, Ihsanoğlu visited Jerusalem and Hebron and “invited all Muslims to visit the besieged al-Aqsa Mosque, with the understanding that such an act, however modest, would offer comfort and support for the Jerusalemites and consolidate them in their steadfastness.”

Second: Turkey  

In the context of the Arab uprisings, Turkey redefined its regional role as the Syrian revolution had a major impact on Turkish regional policies due to the geopolitical platform which Turkey and Syria share. The Turkish “zero-problem” policy no longer ruled, as the country clearly took sides with the revolutions, negatively impacting its relations with the Syrian regime and the Egyptian regime following the coup against Morsi. These policies have also had repercussions on Turkey’s relations with Iran, KSA, and UAE.

In these circumstances, Turkish-Palestinian relations improved significantly, particularly after the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla in 2010, and deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations. Events in Syria have helped the improvement of Turkish-Hamas relations, with some Hamas leaders opting to take Turkey as their base following their exit from Syria and due to the holstility of the Egyptian authorities.

In all cases, Turkish foreign policy under the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi—AKP), ruling since 2002, has sought to combine a number of measures that seem intertwined and at times even contradictory.

All the while, Turkey attempts to respond to the historic legacy, and the Turkish public’s desire to support the Palestinian issue, and observe the Islamic background of the ruling party. Simultaneously it deals with the Palestinian issue as a key for an active role in the Arab world and the Middle East. In addition, the AKP’s gradual approach enables it to win support and take political stances proportionate with its internal strength and robustness.

On another level, this policy took into consideration Turkish membership of the NATO alliance led by the US, and the ruling party’s desire to submit Turkey’s application for EU membership, thus making sure that certain limits are not transgressed to avoid any crisis with these powers. Concurrently, Turkey took into consideration its relations with Israel, in their economic, political and military forms, so that it could gradually decrease or dismantle the bilateral relations or even take stronger stances without disrupting the internal position of the ruling party or getting into direct confrontation with the West.

Relations with the Palestinian Side

Turkey’s positive relations with the PA in Ramallah continued in 2012–2013. Palestinian President Mahmud ‘Abbas visited Turkey on 29/2/2012, and met with Turkish officials to discuss Turkish-Palestinian relations, the peace process, as well as Palestinian reconciliation efforts and the developments of the “Arab Spring.” On 4/6/2012, President ‘Abbas visited Istanbul again, where he met separately with his Turkish counterpart ‘Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and participated in the World Economic Forum in Ankara. Over the two years, ‘Abbas continued to update Erdoğan, through telephone communications, on the situation in the region, the peace process, Israeli violations in Jerusalem, particularly those related to al-Aqsa Mosque, and Israeli attacks and violations against the Palestinian people and their property including those carried out by settlers.

In October 2013, a delegation of Palestinian businessmen participated in the Turkish business conference “The Role of Trade for the Development of Palestinian Economy,” and both the National Economy Minister Jawad Nagi and his Turkish counterpart Zafer Caglayan participated at the conference. According to the head of the Palestinian Businessmen Association in GS Ali al-Hayek, an agreement was made to develop and enhance economic and commercial cooperation, increase the Palestinian-Turkish trade volume, and promote business partnership in different economic fields. The conference discussed signing two agreements related to investment and preventing double taxation, in addition to discussing the activation of the free trade agreement and promoting Palestinian products’ entrance into the Turkish market.
On 20/11/2013, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah met the Turkish envoy in Ramallah Şakir Özkan Torunlar, and signed an agreement to pay $9.7 million in compensation to the owners of the lands in the industrial zone in Jenin. Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for Turkish keenness to end the divisions, work toward holding elections and resume the Palestinian democratic process. In November 2013, Özkan met Minister of Planning Muhammad Abu Ramadan discussing furthering cooperation between the two sides.

A Turkish delegation of the Union of Municipalities of Turkey, and the United Cities and the Local Government, Middle East and West Asia Section (UCLG-MEWA), visited WB during August 2013 in coordination with the Association of Palestinian Local Authorities. The visit was aimed at enhancing bilateral relations and exchanging expertise between the Turkish and Palestinian municipalities through signing twinning agreements.

On the ground, Turkey implemented several projects in 2012 and 2013, in Jerusalem, Hebron, Gaza, Tulkarm, Nablus, Tubas and other cities, with total Turkish support reaching around $4 million in 2013.

On another level, Erdoğan’s government adopted a positive stance toward Hamas, and had no reservations in dealing with its caretaker government. As President Gül reiterated on 12/5/2010, “The Hamas side won the elections in Gaza and so cannot be ignored.”  Turkey continued to defend Hamas as a political non-terrorist organization, with Erdoğan asserting that “Hamas is a resistance group fighting to defend their land. They won the elections in Palestine… I also told these [things] to U.S. officials. I don’t accept Hamas as a terrorist organization.”  Erdoğan’s government adopted an official stance calling for dialogue with Hamas and including it in the political and diplomatic process in order to reach a solution to the Palestinian issue. Turkey viewed the involvement of all active Palestinian powers, including Hamas who won the majority of parliamentary seats, as a condition for the success of Turkish mediation between Palestinians and Israel.

Meanwhile, Turkey became the ground for many Islamic activities and events supporting the Palestinian people, while Israel was condemned for “collective punishment,” and Turkey constantly called for breaking the inhumane siege of GS. It viewed defending GS, condemning the siege, and calls to allow assistance into the Strip as an indirect support for Hamas, which has controlled the Strip since 2007.

The Turkish-Hamas relationship developed significantly during 2012–2013, with recurrent meetings being held. Parallel stances regarding the Arab uprisings as well as continued tensions in Turkish-Israeli relations have further developed Turkish-Hamas relations. Early in 2012, Prime Minister Haniyyah visited Turkey and met Turkish officials and leaders of all Turkish parties without any exception. In a noteworthy statement, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu observed that Haniyyah’s visit is proof that the road to Palestine passes through Turkey.  Haniyyah’s subsequent tour in the region, 30/1–16/2/2012, that included Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran, UAE and Egypt, sent a message that Hamas wished to be seen as an independent movement, free of exclusive allegiance to any side.

On 18/3/2012, Khalid Mish‘al, head of Hamas’s political bureau, started a regional tour, where he met Turkish President ‘Abdullah Gül and updated him on the latest developments of the Palestinian issue, the conditions of the Palestinian people, hostile Israeli practices, as well as the situation in Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, the holy sites and Judaization process. On 21/4/2012, Mish‘al met Davutoğlu in the Qatari capital Doha, and discussed the Arab-Israeli conflict and the latest developments on the Palestinian scene, including Palestinian national reconciliation.

[1] This study is the approved English translation of chapter four of the book entitled: The Palestinian Strategic Report 2012–2013, edited by Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh. Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut released the Arabic version in 2014. The first draft of this chapter was written by Muhammed Zahid Gül, Prof. Dr. Talal ‘Atrissi and Wael Sa‘ad.

Chapter Four: The Palestinian Issue and the Muslim World  2012-2013

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Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 6/8/2015