Will Arab Leaders Take Action on Jerusalem, or Only Give Words?

Published December 13th, 2017 - 02:59 GMT
Group photo at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit on last week's US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on December 13, 2017 in Istanbul. - Edited photo (YASIN AKGUL / AFP)
Group photo at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit on last week's US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on December 13, 2017 in Istanbul. - Edited photo (YASIN AKGUL / AFP)
  • President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital
  • The move was condemned by states in the Middle East and worldwide
  • Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others all enjoy favorable relations with Israel
  • It remains to be seen whether these countries will stand with Palestine or maintain their self interests


As protests took place across the Middle East and worldwide in response to Trump's decision to declare Jerusaelm the capital of Israel, many leaders of the Arab world expressed regret or disapproval in words or statements.

Now it waits to be seen if these words will turn into action over a week later, or are these countries simply reacting appropriately to appease their people while maintaining their own national interests. 

Approximately 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are meeting in Istanbul today to discuss Trump's move and recognize East Jerusalem as the captial of Palestine. 

"I am inviting the countries who value international law and fairness to recognize occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the opening of the summit on Wednesday. 

He continued to call Israel a state of "occupation and "terror." Lebanese President Michel Aoun called Israel a violator of human rights and threatened legal and political action to declare Jerusalem the captial of Palestine. 

However, many wonder what if any real effect will come from such declarations as many of these countries have strong relationships with the U.S. and Israel. 

Jordan and Egypt are the only two countries to have peace treaty's with Israel. Jordanian Parliament is pushing to review their 1994 Wadi Araba treaty with Israel as a result of Trump's declaration. 

The Jordanian government described the decision as “legally null” given that the U.S. does not recognize the occupied status of East Jerusalem.

Despite the condemnation, Jordan currently enjoys extremely favorable relations with both the U.S. and Israel. Jordan is one of only two Arab countries to recognize the Zionist state following a 1994 Peace Treaty.

Last year it was claimed by Israeli author Ephraim Herrera in the country's Israel Hayom newspaper that Jordan requested security and political aid from Tel Aviv.

It also emerged that a Jordanian military delegation had visited Israel and met with senior Israeli officials last year.

However, the biggest bond between the two countries is financial after they signed a 15-year gas deal valued at $10 billion, whereby Jordan will buy 45 billion cubic meters of gas from Israel over the coming years.

Earlier this year, protests erupted in Amman after an Israeli embassy security guard evaded prosecution for killing two Jordanians.

Outraged Jordanians called for the guard to be help accountable but he was later handed over to Israel and has since escaped prosecution.

While the move caused tensions between the two countries, Israel replaced their ambassador in the country last month, in a bid to smooth relations and regain their strong standing in the Kingdom.

The decision is unlikely to see an end to the peace treaty as Jordan will then have to find a way of maintaining relations with its near neighbor while calming unrest by Palestinians within the Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Jordan is not the only country in the region that will be placed in a difficult spot as part of the decision.

The Saudi Royal Court issued a statement saying that the kingdom followed “with deep sorrow” the move and warned of “dangerous consequences of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem”.

The statement also described the decision as “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process”, and urging the U.S. President to reverse the move.

Despite the statement, Saudi Arabia currently enjoys stronger relations with both Israel and the United States than at any point in recent history.

Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh earlier this year sparked headlines across the world as the U.S. President was seen bowing down in front of the Saudi monarchs and praising the Kingdom heavily in a detailed speech.

Meanwhile, Saudi relations with Israel are stronger than ever as each country finds an unlikely ally in the other copperfastened by a mutual dislike of Iran.

In November, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara invited Saudi's Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh to visit Israel and Israel's chief-of-staff Gadi Eizenkot gave the first-ever official interview to Saudi's Elaph news outlet in the same month.

In the interview Eizenkot said that Israel is ready to share intelligence with Saudi Arabia on Iran.

Saudi partner, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also enjoys extremely cozy relations with U.S.  The Egyptian leader was among the first to congratulate Trump on his election to the White House.

Meanwhile, Egyptian relations with Israel also remain strong as a result of co-operation against militants in Sinai, and gas deals between the two countries. While Egypt also maintains strong relations with Palestinian factions, it is almost inconceivable that th announcement from the U.S. will affect Egypt’s bond with the Israeli state or its partners in Washington.

Some analysts believe that relations between the two countries have never been stronger after President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu met earlier this year in New York.

In 2016, Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry visited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

"Egyptian-Israeli relations are today at their highest level in history," Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), a research NGO, told Al Jazeera in an interview. 

U.S. ally Turkey said the decision was “irresponsible”.

“We call upon the U.S. Administration to reconsider this faulty decision which may result in highly negative outcomes and to avoid uncalculated steps that will harm the multicultural identity and historical status of Jerusalem,” said the Turkish foreign ministry.

While Turkish relations with the U.S. have appeared strained in recent months over visa applications, the two countries still enjoy favorable terms on many issues.

Lebanon, Qatar, and Iran also condemned the move but as all three have complicated relationships with U.S. and Israel, it is predicted that Trump's decision won’t see any major changes on the ground.

Overall, there appears to much rhetoric surrounding Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move the embassy.

However, the reality is that much of the Arab world currently enjoys favorable economic and political relations with Israel and is unlikely make any drastic moves.

Historically many Middle Eastern countries have used the Palestinian cause to show they support Arab unity as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the most pervasive modern struggle the Arab region faces today collectively.  

While many countries in the region are quick to condemn statements such as Trump's announcement declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, it waits to be seen how Middle Eastern states will act. 

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