Turkiye, Saudi Arabia on diplomatic blitz for Gaza


Turkiye, Saudi Arabia on diplomatic blitz for Gaza

Turkiye, Saudi Arabia on diplomatic blitz for Gaza
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Turkiye and Saudi Arabia, both active members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, have been working on the diplomatic front for Gaza. Their strategy involves internationalizing the war as much as possible, while seeking the deeper involvement of non-Western powers such as China and Russia.

As OIC member states, they cooperate on a number of issues, ranging from Palestine to Kashmir and from Myanmar to the plight of the Uighurs. The Palestine issue was not only instrumental in their cooperation, but it was also an important issue in Turkiye’s membership of the OIC, which came in response to a 1969 arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The process that resulted in Turkiye joining the OIC, which is based in Saudi Arabia, was very controversial. Turkiye began as a preliminary member, as it did not approve the OIC Charter because it was found to be incompatible with the secularist principle of the Turkish constitution. The leftist Republican People’s Party opposed Turkiye’s participation in Islamic forums and organizations.

However, the Turkish government under the leadership of Suleyman Demirel, who had a conservative worldview, tried to use the country’s participation in the OIC to erase the misunderstandings of the past between Turkiye and the Middle Eastern states. Both domestic and external political developments pushed Demirel to send Turkiye’s foreign minister to the first meeting of the OIC in Rabat in 1969. However, while keen to approach the Arab world, Turkiye was also trying to keep its relations with Israel on track.

The Palestinian cause played a key role in Turkiye’s membership of the OIC and in mending its ties with Middle Eastern states.

Sinem Cengiz

Turkiye had remained neutral during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. After its conclusion, Ankara became one of the first countries to recognize Israel. From 1949 until the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Turkiye remained the only Muslim-majority country to have diplomatic ties with Israel.

However, this approach was not welcomed by the OIC’s member states. At the second summit held in 1974, Turkiye was asked to break its ties with Israel. Although Ankara approved some of the decisions taken at the summit, it did not agree to sever its relations with Tel Aviv and so was denied funding from the Islamic Development Bank. Turkiye reacted to this move by increasing its level of representation at the organization.

Ankara also asked Rauf Denktas, the president of northern Cyprus, to make a speech at the summit and for a representative from the community to attend all OIC meetings. Turkiye’s requests were accepted and it was also allowed to host an OIC meeting in Istanbul. Denktas delivered his speech at the seventh Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers held in the Ataturk Cultural Center in Istanbul in May 1976. It was agreed that representatives of the Turkish Muslim community of Cyprus be invited to attend future meetings of the OIC.

It was at this conference that Turkiye agreed to allow the Palestine Liberation Organization to open an office in Ankara without any conditions. Thus, the Palestinian cause played a key role in Turkiye’s membership of the OIC and in mending its ties with Middle Eastern states. This is also the case at present.

Over the last three weeks, the Turkish and Saudi foreign ministers, along with their counterparts from other OIC states, have undertaken a globetrotting mission seeking international action to stop the war in Gaza and to push for humanitarian aid to be allowed into the Strip. The delegation has held meetings in Beijing, Moscow, London, Paris, Barcelona, the US and Canada. In a photo taken on the last leg of their trip, the Saudi, Turkish and Palestinian foreign ministers were all present.

The OIC serves as a significant platform for these states to showcase their involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sinem Cengiz

For decades, the question of Palestine has maintained a prominent place in the official Saudi and Turkish positions. In particular, Gaza has remained central due to the unjust blockade imposed by Israel. Palestinian self-determination still holds importance in the minds of their populations. 

The OIC serves as a significant platform for these states to showcase their involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although the OIC has the potential to play a pivotal role in advocating for peace and justice in the conflict, it is imperative that its members should take more steps to get involved in the process to ensure that the suffering of the Palestinian people comes to an end.

The divisions among the OIC’s members on forging a cohesive and robust response to the Gaza crisis showcase the complex geopolitical realities of the region. Whether they can overcome their differences and play an effective role in the shaping of the war’s trajectory remains to be seen. Turkiye and Saudi Arabia can act as two heavyweights in overcoming these differences. Member states’ future actions will not only influence the conflict's resolution but also define the broader Middle Eastern order.

As key OIC members, Turkiye and Saudi Arabia are deeply concerned about the potential for regional destabilization, if not a Middle East war. The cooperation that Ankara and Riyadh are pursuing during the Gaza war — even at just the level of a diplomatic front — is likely to consolidate and deepen the normalization of relations between these two states and strengthen the future role and status of the OIC.

  • Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East. X: @SinemCngz
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