The OIC summit failed Palestinians; we must not

Dennis Ignatius

After weeks of mounting pressure from their own populations over the slaughter and carnage in Gaza, Arab and Islamic leaders gathered in Riyadh last week for an emergency session of the OIC to discuss the issue. It was a waste of time.

Prior to the summit, Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir announced that “Malaysia does not want the meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Palestine to just conclude with a statement of condemnation without presenting any concrete steps to move forward”. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim for his part reminded the summiteers that “the ummah expects tangible results and concrete action” from the summit.

But empty words and meaningless gestures were all the summit produced; it was naïve to think otherwise. The whole reason why the Palestinian issue has festered as long as it has is because the so-called “ummah” is hopelessly divided by competing national agendas and regional rivalries. They have not been able to agree on anything of any significance in a very long while.

Key Arab states place more importance on building relations with Israel to counter the perceived threat from Iran than about the plight of the Palestinian people. They are quick to call upon the international community or the UN or other nations to act – as they did in their communique – but they themselves won’t take meaningful steps to stop Israel’s war of aggression and genocide against the Palestinian people. They act as if they are not part of the international community, not part of the problem.

Those who have relations with Israel could have recalled their ambassadors (as Jordan did); they could have suspended airlinks with Israel; they could have announced a boycott of all diplomatic activities with Israel and even threatened economic sanctions, but instead they called upon the international community to act. It was one of the most disgraceful performances ever by the OIC. No doubt the Palestinian people will feel betrayed yet again and rightly so.

What’s worse, the public display of their impotence will now send a clear message to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he has nothing to fear from Arab and Islamic leaders; he can continue his genocidal bombardment of Gaza’s civilian population in the full glare of the world’s media and all they would do is issue trite statements.

As for PMX, it was an object lesson in the limits of Malaysian diplomacy. We might think we are punching above our weight, we might think that our Islamic credentials count for something and Anwar might consider himself a Muslim leader of some repute but clearly Arab leaders are not about to take lessons from the leader of a small non-Arab state that is at best a peripheral player on the Palestinian issue.

His very vocal support for Hamas and his cozy relationship with Iran didn’t help either given Arab suspicions of and hostility towards both. That the summiteers appointed Indonesia not Malaysia to a smaller contact group (which also included Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Turkiye and Nigeria) to consider further action should tell us something.

Nevertheless, Malaysia must remain steadfast in its support for Palestine. It’s not just an issue for Muslims; it’s an issue for all who care about human rights and justice. We may be put off by the way local politicians are exploiting the issue for their own ends or we might have our own internal differences on related issues but we cannot as a nation watch as thousands of innocent civilians are slaughtered, hospitals and schools bombed and entire neighbourhoods razed to the ground.

I am shocked and deeply disappointed that political leaders like Darell Leiking would begrudge what little assistance we give to Palestinian students here or the tone of others who see Palestinians as nothing more than terrorists and trouble-makers.

Surely we cannot be that ignorant; even a cursory reading of history ought to tell us that the Palestinian people are one of the most victimised people in modern history. For more than half a century they have been occupied, butchered, humiliated and deprived of even the most basic of human rights. Palestine is one of the great moral issues of our time; we must stand on the right side of history on this.

If we Malaysians cannot find it in our hearts to help Palestine especially after all they have endured, if all the scenes of death and destruction that is being daily played out on our television screens don’t move us, then Malaysia is not the country that I believed in and was proud to represent as ambassador.