ISTANBUL, May 18 — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today hosts for the second time in half a year a summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic group seeking to show solidarity with the Palestinians and condemn Israel after its deadly shootings of Gaza protesters.
Erdogan has reacted with unbridled fury to the killing by Israeli forces on Monday of 60 Palestinians on the Gaza border, accusing Israel of “genocide” and being run as an “apartheid state”.
His comments sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel and Erdogan has also called a mass demonstration expected to rally hundreds of thousands of people Friday to protest Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians.
Erdogan has already hosted an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in December last year, to denounce US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
He has already vowed that Friday’s summit should send a “strong message to the world” over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
However, as in the 2017 meeting, disputes between the OIC’s key players — notably between Sunni kingpin Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran — may prevent the adoption of any measures going beyond harsh rhetoric.
Riyadh — which appears to have softened its stance on Israel as the influence of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has grown — and its allies fear alienating the United States with tough measures against Israel.
Saudi’s chief foreign policy preoccupation, shared with Israel, is ensuring US backing to contain Iran which both Riyadh and the Jewish state see as the main threat to regional peace.
Dragged into chaos
After only declaring his intention to hold the event on Monday, Erdogan has managed to build up an impressive guest list at short notice in intense phone diplomacy.
Jordanian King Abdullah II will be present although the Palestinians will be represented by prime minister Rami Hamdallah and not president Mahmud Abbas who this week had surgery on his ear.
From the Gulf, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah is expected as is Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, Turkey’s main regional ally.
As in the November 2017 meeting, a controversial guest will be Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Egypt and Saudi Arabia distrust Turkey’s support for Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, complicating any effort to take concrete measures against Israel.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir will be at the Istanbul summit. The Saudi level of representation is higher than at the November meeting.
Erdogan has long craved a role as a Muslim leader within the entire Islamic world, rarely holding back with tirades against Israel even though Ankara has diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
“If the silence on Israel’s tyranny continues, the world will rapidly be dragged into a chaos where banditry prevails,” Erdogan said Wednesday.
Stop the oppression
Tensions with Israel and hosting such a meeting also does Erdogan no harm with his core supporters as Turkey heads to presidential and parliamentary polls on June 24.
In a diplomatic crisis threatening a 2016 deal that allowed the resumption of full ties, Turkey has ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave for an unspecified period of time.
Turkey had already withdrawn its Tel Aviv ambassador for consultations while Israel ordered the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave, also for an unspecified period of time.
Erdogan has engaged in a bitter Twitter spat with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu who he accused of having “the blood of Palestinians” on his hands.
The rally expected just before the summit is set to take place at the vast Yenikapi meeting area which is favoured by Erdogan for election rallies and has capacity for a million people.
Erdogan is himself expected to address the rally, which is to be held under the slogan “stop the oppression”. — AFP