Prague, 22 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- An emergency meeting of the world's largest Islamic organization today criticized the U.S. government for supporting an Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza but keep some settlements in the West Bank.
The final declaration from the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference strongly rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan, saying that it "breaches the resolutions of international legitimacy."
The declaration also says that support from the United States for Sharon's plan is "detrimental to the peace process" in the Middle East because it denies "the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people."
"When I am talking of linkage, I am talking about linkage in terms of a feeling in the Islamic world that they are not getting fair treatment."
The OIC meeting in the Malaysian city of Putrajaya originally was scheduled for 4 May. But it was brought forward amid growing anger in the Muslim world over U.S. support for Sharon's plan.
Even those Islamic countries considered allies of Washington in the antiterrorism coalition have criticized the U.S. show of support for Sharon's plan.
Malaysian Prime Minister and current OIC Chairman Abdullah Ahmad Badawi opened the meeting by suggesting that, at least in the minds of Muslims around the world, Sharon's policies are beginning to take on the characteristics of Nazi atrocities against Jews during World War II: "Of course, the state terrorism conducted by Israel, with even more severe consequences on Palestinian lives, must be unreservedly condemned. Indeed, the terror inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel is beginning to assume the characteristics of atrocities once encountered by the Jews themselves."
Abdullah also said U.S. President George W. Bush's support for Sharon's plan suggests to the Islamic world that Washington is moving away from being an "honest broker" for a Middle East peace: "It is essential that the Palestinians be given the full right to have a say on matters that directly affect them. The United States, in particular, would be failing the international community if it distanced itself from assuming the role of honest broker in finding a resolution to the conflict. It is only proper for the United States to commit the full weight of its diplomatic capabilities to secure a comprehensive, just, and enduring solution for the Palestinians."
Indeed, Bush's endorsement of Sharon's plan amounts to a major change in U.S. policy. By giving his endorsement, Bush did two things that no U.S. president has ever done. He supported the idea that Israel should not have to give up all of the land it captured during the Six-Day War of 1967. He also rejected the idea that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their former property within Israel, saying that they could instead live within a future Palestinian state.
Both points previously were considered issues that should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians during talks on the final status of a Palestinian state.
Jordan's king abruptly postponed a visit to the White House this week to protest Washington's endorsement of the Sharon plan. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reacted by saying that hatred toward America within the Arab world has never been higher.
In an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of today's OIC meeting, Pakistan's foreign minister, Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, said Washington's stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict has broader implications for the region, especially in Iraq: "When I am talking of linkage, I am talking about linkage in terms of a feeling in the Islamic world that they are not getting a fair treatment. That is the feeling. To what extent that is correct, only the Muslims are the best judges, because that is the feeling that they have. And to the extent that it will be useful, that feeling [would be] nullified by a more impartial [U.S.] position on Palestine. [That] will be helpful in Iraq."
The Malaysian prime minister today called on the Bush administration to allow the United Nations to play a larger role in Iraq after the scheduled handover of sovereignty to Iraqis in June: "Given the latest developments in the country, the time has indeed arrived for the international community to give serious consideration to giving the United Nations a central role in the affairs of Iraq. Such a role is attainable only through a meaningful and adequate expansion of the mandate currently provided by the UN Security Council Resolution 1511. As a leading member of the coalition, it is appropriate for the United States administration to initiate the tabling of a resolution in the UN Security Council to effect this change."
Most Islamic countries have shunned the idea of joining the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. But some countries -- notably Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia -- have said they are willing to consider an appeal from Washington for a multinational force provided those troops operate under the auspices of the UN.
While the Organization of the Islamic Conference reflects the views of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, it lacks an institutional framework to take concrete action.
Only about 20 of the group's 57 members sent representatives to today's emergency meeting. And only four members -- Pakistan, Indonesia, the Palestinian Authority, and host country Malaysia -- sent their foreign ministers. The remaining delegates were junior ministers or other diplomatic envoys.