Palestinians no longer accept U.S. as mediator, Abbas tells summit
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has formally declared that Palestinians will no longer accept the US as a mediator in the Middle East peace process following Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In his strongest public statement since Trump’s announcement last week, Abbas said Palestinians would go to the United Nations security council to seek full membership of the UN while asking the world body to take control of the peace process as Washington was no longer “fit” for the task.
The meeting took place a day after the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, suggested that the linked – and equally contentious – move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem might not actually take place during Trump’s current term in office.
Abbas was speaking at a hastily convened meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, where members were called upon to recognize a Palestinian state, amid strong condemnations of both the US and Israel.
“Jerusalem is and will forever be the capital of the Palestinian state,” Abbas told delegates. “We do not accept any role of the United States in the political process from now on, because it is completely biased towards Israel.”
The Palestinian president’s comments were echoed later in the summit’s official closing statement, which declared “East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine” and invited “all countries to recognize the state of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital”.
The statement said the OIC summit viewed Trump’s move “as an announcement of the US administration’s withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace” in the Middle East, describing it as legally “null and void” and “a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts” that would give impetus to “extremism and terrorism”.
The summit was attended by King Abdullah of Jordan, the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait, and the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who called on all Muslim nations to unite to defend the rights of Palestinians.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opened the meeting by denouncing the US move as a provocative “red line” for Muslims, describing Israel as an occupying and “terror” state. His remarks were echoed by other speakers.
But in a sign of cracks in the unity of Muslim countries – and reflecting the wider tensions in the region – Saudi Arabia and Egypt were represented at a relatively junior level, and took a back seat in the proceedings.
In comments pointedly aimed at Saudi Arabia, Rouhani said the only reason Trump had dared to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was because some in the region were seeking to establish ties to Israel.
Rouhani’s remarks – and the prominence of countries closer to Iran at the summit – suggested there is a risk that the contentious issue of Jerusalem will be sucked into the escalating confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran.
Away from the summit, however, King Salman of Saudi Arabia echoed its language, telling the kingdom’s consultative council that Palestinians had the right to establish the Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem as their capital.
“The kingdom has called for a political solution to resolve regional crises, foremost of which is the Palestinian issue and the restoration of the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights, including the right to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” the king said.
Analysts raised doubts as to whether Turkey’s leadership could bridge gaps in the Muslim political community, which is divided along Shia and Sunni lines.
Despite the strength of the condemnations, the meeting appeared to have fallen short of Palestinian hopes for a display of unity.
There are fears that regional tensions may be fanned further by a visit by the US vice-president, Mike Pence, early next week, originally billed as focusing on the experience of Christians in the Middle East.
Abbas has already said he will refuse to meet Pence in protest, and Christian Palestinian leaders have also come under pressure to boycott his visit.
Trump’s announcement last week prompted an outpouring of anger in the Muslim and Arab world. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to denounce Israel and show solidarity with the Palestinians.
Firing aimed at Israel from inside the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza, which began after the announcement, continued on Wednesday morning. The Israeli air force – which has killed four Palestinians in Gaza in recent strikes – retaliated, wounding several Palestinians.