On Tuesday the Organization of Islamic Cooperation held an “emergency,” “extraordinary” meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The OIC includes violence-wracked countries and failed states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and others, as well as severely poor and dysfunctional countries like Burkina Faso, Somalia, Bangladesh, and others. Not a single one of the organization’s 57 countries is a frontrunner in terms of freedom and prosperity, and most are far below that level.
But the topic of Tuesday’s “emergency meeting” was that on April 17 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that: “Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.”
The meeting’s final communiqué “Condemns strongly Israel, the occupying power, and its macabre acts to change the legal status, demographic composition, and institutional structure of the occupied Syrian Golan.” It also “expresses unconditional support for the legitimate right of the Syrian people to restore their full sovereignty on the occupied Syrian Golan.”
The Arab League—whose 22 member states make up a sizable chunk of the OIC—had already weighed in on Netanyahu’s words on April 21, calling for a special criminal court to be set up and put Israel on trial for the transgression.
The Golan was controlled by Syria from 1948 to 1967, during which time Syrian gunners often fired at the Israeli communities below and forced their residents to sleep in bomb shelters. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War—and fortunately, since then, has kept it and developed it.
Today, with Syria devolved into Hobbesian war and fragmentation, the Heights are all the more strategically vital to Israel, and the idea of trading them for “peace” has—at least in the Israeli discourse—died a well-deserved death. The Golan, by the way, constitutes less than 1 percent of Syrian territory, and Syria’s loss of it almost 50 years ago is the least of its problems.
But there is further irony in the Arab League’s and the OIC’s reactions to Netanyahu’s words.
At present, Israel is engaged in tight strategic cooperation with two of its neighbors—Egypt and Jordan—against ISIS, one of the two most dangerous of the entities now fighting it out in Syria. More broadly, according to numerous reports, as well as hints dropped by Israeli and some Arab leaders, Israel and Sunni Arab states—led by Saudi Arabia—are also working together against the Iranian axis, the second of the two most threatening forces now operating in Syria.
Not only, then, do the Arab and Muslim countries as corporate bodies denounce Israel as a “macabre” criminal even as it acts as a crucial ally of not a few of these countries. They also react with outrage to the very Israeli policy—retaining the Golan—that keeps Israel strong in the face of the threats emanating from Syrian territory.
The signers of Tuesday’s communiqué in Jeddah know that there no longer exists a “Syrian people” to which sovereignty on the Golan could be restored. Some of the signers also know that a strong Israel is now one of the guarantors of their survival; and more specifically, that Israel’s presence on the Golan helps shield Jordan from imminent peril.
That Netanyahu’s words about keeping the Golan continue to spark fierce denunciations, then, reflects something deeper: an ongoing, profound antipathy to Israeli—that is, Jewish—control of any land in what is seen as, by rights, a Muslim domain. From that standpoint, even for Israel to hold onto a sliver of what used to be Syria, won in a defensive war almost half a century ago, is intolerable.
That same antipathy was on display earlier this month when seven Arab countries—including Egypt—got UNESCO to pass a particularly vicious resolution negating any Jewish connection to Judaism’s most sacred sites in Jerusalem, declaring them exclusively Muslim sites, and going so far as to accuse Israel of “planting Jewish fake graves in…Muslim cemeteries.” (Among the “yea” votes: France, Spain, and Sweden.)
These rhetorical eruptions suggest that, despite the growing behind-the-scenes collaborations, Israel remains very far from being accepted and legitimized in the region. Its best bet is to keep building its power, which gets some of its neighbors to deal with it pragmatically and rationally.
As for the Arab and Muslim countries, their continuing hang-up with the geographically tiny Jewish state, and repeated displays of ganging up on it in righteous fury, are unedifying and linked to their inability to tackle their real problems.