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OIC rejects Trump plan; Kuwait says Palestine cause top priority

JEDDAH: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki (right) delivers a speech during an emergency ministerial meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) yesterday to address US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan. – AFP

JEDDAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation yesterday rejected US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East, calling on its 57 member states not to help implement it. The pan-Islamic body, which represents more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, “rejects this US-Israeli plan as it does not meet the minimum aspirations and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and contradicts the terms of reference of the peace process”, it said in a statement.

A meeting of foreign ministers at OIC headquarters in the Saudi city of Jeddah called on “all member states not (to) deal with this plan or cooperate with the US administration efforts to enforce it in any way or form”. Under the US plan unveiled last week, Israel would retain control of the disputed city of Jerusalem as its “undivided capital” and annex settlements on Palestinian lands. Trump’s plan suggests that Israel would retain control of the contested city of Jerusalem as its “undivided capital” but Palestinians would be allowed to declare a capital adjacent to Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The OIC reiterated its support for east Jerusalem as capital of a future Palestinian state, stressing its “Arab and Islamic character”. It said peace would “only be achieved with the end of the Israeli occupation, the full withdrawal from the territory of the State of Palestine in particular the holy city of Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) and the other Arab territories occupied since (the) June 1967 (Middle East war)”.

Kuwait highly appreciates the international community’s efforts to find a solution to the Middle East conflict, the Kuwaiti foreign minister said yesterday, describing the “Palestinian cause” as the Muslim world’s chief concern. The misery the Palestinians have had to withstand amid a conflict that has raged on for more than half a century is unspeakable, Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah told the OIC meeting.

After similar talks involving the foreign ministers of Arab League member states last week, he lamented the fact that an end to the plight of the Palestinians remains elusive, emphasizing that an independent state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital remains the ultimate goal. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Sudan’s leader yesterday to discuss “normalization” between the two states, his office said. Netanyahu met Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, chairman of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, and “agreed to start cooperation leading to normalization of the relationship between the two countries,” a statement from his office said.

Israel and Sudan are technically at war. “History,” Netanyahu said in a tweet announcing the meeting. The statement from Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister believed “Sudan is headed in a new positive direction”. On Sunday, Sudan said the US had invited Burhan to Washington for an official visit, the first such move in more than three decades.

Iran – a member of the OIC – was not represented at yesterday’s meeting, with its foreign ministry saying that the delegation was granted visas to archrival Saudi Arabia “just hours” before the group was to convene. However, Tehran has already condemned the US plan, saying it amounted to the “treason of the century” and was bound to fail.

The Arab League on Saturday also rejected the controversial plan, saying at a meeting in Cairo that it did not meet the “minimum rights” of the Palestinians. They insisted on a two-state solution that includes a Palestinian state based on borders before the 1967 war – when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza – and with east Jerusalem as its capital.

In his opening remarks yesterday, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki said the plan “cannot be called a peace plan because the Palestinians are not a part of it, and it eliminates all chances of peace”. Gulf powerhouses Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said last week they “appreciated” US efforts to reach a Palestinian-Israel agreement in what was seen as a balancing act aimed at appeasing their powerful US ally.

“The plan announced (on January 28) offers an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework,” said UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al-Otaiba, who – along with Omani and Bahraini envoys – was at the White House for the announcement. Saudi Arabia said it “appreciates” Trump’s efforts and called for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, while reiterating its “steadfast” support for the Palestinians.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced in Cairo during the Arab League meeting that he will cut all ties with Israel and the US. “We are informing you that there will be no relations with you (Israel) and the United States, including on security cooperation,” he said. But yesterday he appeared to step back from that statement, implying he had not yet severed ties but still could.

“If the Americans continue with this project, the boycott is there (as an option), a full boycott,” he told a cabinet meeting. Israeli-Palestinian security coordination ranges from information sharing about militant cells in the West Bank to coordination between police forces. Palestinian forces have also received training from the United States and other Western countries.

Abbas cut political relations with the Trump administration in Dec 2017 after the US controversially recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “There is one channel left and this channel should be cut off,” Abbas added, seemingly referring to security coordination. He pledged that his government would continue to provide Palestinians with key services, including health and education. Abbas has made threats to cut security ties with Israel multiple times, without following through.

The Trump plan also gives Israel the green light to annex the strategic Jordan Valley – making up 30 percent of the West Bank – and all Jewish settlements, which number more than 200. “The plan from the beginning carries with it seeds of its demise,” Nevine Mossaad, a political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP. “After all this Palestinian, Arab and Islamic rejection, be assured of its death.”

In a related development, Uganda is “studying” the possibility of opening an embassy in Jerusalem, President Yoweri Museveni said yesterday during a visit by Netanyahu. Such a move would be seen internationally as a statement of support for Israel’s claim for the city of Jerusalem to be its capital, a potential political win for Netanyahu less than a month before a national election on March 2.

“If a friend says I want your embassy here rather than there I don’t see why there would be…,” Museveni said before trailing off and continuing: “We are really working, we’re studying that.” “You open an embassy in Jerusalem and I will open an embassy in Kampala,” promised Netanyahu. “We hope to do this in the near future.”

Uganda and Israel currently have no embassy in each other’s country, though Museveni is a long-standing ally of Israel, which trains some elements of the Ugandan security forces. Israel’s embassy in Nairobi, in neighboring Kenya, currently handles its relations with Uganda.

Uganda’s Entebbe airport was the scene in 1976 of a dramatic rescue operation conducted by Israeli commandos to save nearly 100 mostly Israeli passengers on board an Air France airliner hijacked by Palestinian and German militants. Netanyahu, whose elder brother Yonatan, a commander in the operation, was killed in the incident, said he found every visit to Uganda “profoundly moving” for this reason. Three passengers and all the hostage takers also died in the operation.

As well as the embassy issue, Netanyahu said Israel and Uganda were exploring the possibility of having direct flights and of closer cooperation in cyber security. “Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel in a big way,” he said. Rights groups, critical of Museveni’s record on human rights, are unlikely to welcome the prospect of increased cooperation with Israel on cyber security. Security personnel in Uganda routinely break up opposition rallies with tear gas, beatings and detentions. – Agencies

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