x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Puic summit finds Muslim world renewed on Palestine

Muslims gathered at the Parliamentary Union of Islamic Countries summit in Abu Dhabi declare intention to pursue Palestinian cause with renewed vigour.

ABU DHABI // Muslim nations are pursuing the Palestinian cause with renewed vigour, planning lobbying efforts to western parliaments to press the case for Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinian conflict was propelled to the centre of the political stage in the Muslim world this week, with the largest bloc of Islamic parliaments issuing a joint demand for the recognition of the state of Palestine.

"The Islamic parliament speakers must visit the major countries - Britain, Germany, France, the US, the European Parliament, China, Japan, India," said Abdulaziz al Ghurair, the speaker of the Federal National Council (FNC) who led the summit.

This would allow Muslim legislators to wield "influence on decision making and explain the position of Islamic countries on the Palestinian issue, and present them with requests," he said.

The week's events at the Parliamentary Union of Islamic Countries (Puic) summit in the capital highlighted the widespread frustration at Israeli intransigence that led to the collapse of direct negotiations last year, and the desire for Arab and Muslim legislators to take matters into their own hands.

Direct negotiations collapsed last year over Israel's refusal to extend a partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.

"What is happening in Jerusalem demands from us greater responsibility," said Fathi Abu al Ardat, a Fatah official and member of the Palestinian National Assembly who attended the Puic conference.

Mr Abu al Ardat cited the "far-right extremist government" in Israel's denial of Palestinian rights, continued attempts to bury Jerusalem's Islamic features, the expansion of settlement building and the "lack of progress on any of the final status issues" as catalysts for renewed resolve in the Arab world.

Israel recently demolished the historic Shepherd Hotel in Jerusalem, a move that drew criticism even from Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, who was on a trip to the Gulf.

Muslim legislators say they want to begin a lobbying campaign with European and American legislators to explain their position on Palestine, in an attempt to influence their decision making on the peace process.

"These visits must recur," said Mr al Ghurair. "The western world believes in parliamentary work, and we must use these same tools.

"Speakers and representatives of the people would lead to real results from these meetings," he added.

In speech after speech this week, speakers of parliament pressed on with the Palestinian cause, saying the international community must work to halt Israeli settlement building and prevent the "Judaisation" of Jerusalem - which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state - warning that time is running out for Palestine and the situation on the ground is the worst in decades.

"The Israeli enemy has continued its harassment of the Palestinians until it has reached a level unprecedented in history," said Ahmed Fathi Sorour, the speaker of the Egyptian parliament, in Abu Dhabi.

He reeled off recent grievances that had exacerbated tensions between Israel and the Arab world, singling out settlement expansion, the assault on the Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza last year and laws that codify the Jewish nature of Israel.

"The result of these intransigent policies is that Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have stopped almost completely due to settlement expansion," he said.

"Israel … is working day and night to remove Jerusalem from the equation," said Khaled Mesmar, the Palestinian National Council's media adviser. "The cancerous arms of the Israeli settlements are spreading as quickly as possible, racing against time from the heart of old Jerusalem to its suburbs, from Silwan to Tour."

But there is a growing understanding that words alone will not help the Palestinian cause.

Momentum is building for a recognition of the Palestinian state independent of negotiations with Israel. Latin American countries have already extended recognition to the Palestinian state and the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said this week that Russia would also recognise a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.

"The role of Arab parliaments is to create a movement, in the Islamic and international arena, to stand by the Palestinian people," said Mr Abu al Ardat.

There was recognition internationally that Israeli intransigence was to blame for the failure of peace talks, he said, which was why Muslim parliaments had pledged to lobby for recognition.

"[We] will work on expanding the circle of recognition of the state of Palestine," he said, adding that the parliaments would now work on putting a programme and mechanism in place for the lobbying efforts.

"The Palestine cause … must remain the central issue on which member nations must take a unified Islamic stance in all international arenas," Muslim parliaments said in a joint communique, declaring that they will "demand from the international community and the [UN] Security Council recognition of this independent Palestinian state".

The union said it would, based on a proposal by the UAE, initiate contact with the US congress as well as the European parliament and other western legislatures to begin pursuing a "just and inclusive solution" to the Arab-Israeli conflict.