On the eve of 2018, the international community was reeling from the intransigent stance adopted by the U.S. administration in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, dealing a heavy blow to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process amid grievous violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions and international law. Out of the international condemnation of this move, the widely acclaimed Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) summit held on Dec. 13, 2017, brought together over 50 Muslim-majority countries that strongly opposed the action and called for resolute action against the recognition. The effectiveness of this joint stand was met with reservations by some, as skeptics around the world noted that that while U.S. President Donald Trump's move seeks to shift the paradigm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along the spectrum of further isolation and marginalization of Palestinians, the Muslim world's reaction would struggle to be matched by impactful action to the vaunted Islamic solidarity at the summit. If true, this would in effect relegate the summit to a growing pile of lip service and discarded commitments on this common cause.
In light of these momentous times, the launch of the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Islamic World Youth Capital program by OIC-affiliated institution takes the stand as the practical move in countering the unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The program is coordinated by the Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation (ICYF-DC), an international organization headquartered in Istanbul, serving as a secretariat for 56 Youth and Sports Ministries of OIC member states. In the past, the ICYF-DC has traditionally focused on touth capital programs promoting regional youth cooperation, empowering active youth development, engagement and capacity building. The current year-long iteration, however, though sharing similar parallels, holds significant implications for Middle Eastern dynamics vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. This is particularly the case as the program envisages year-long, collective practical activities in support of the Palestinian cause amid national differences and international pressures.
The efforts involved in bringing this program to fruition were considerable given the gamut of challenges as the largest historical delegation to Palestine and Jerusalem in years came together in Ramallah on Feb. 6. In itself, this went against the traditional isolationism imposed by Arab and Muslim states toward traveling to Palestine, which had its roots in preventing political recognition of Israel and denying it tourism revenue. The relevance of this stand has lost its weight in recent years, where travel bans in Israel are increasingly implemented in lip service to national narratives in spite of covert, or even overt, ties with Israel. More critically, successive generations of youth are increasingly distanced from the sanctuaries of Jerusalem or the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli issue, in all its political, humanitarian and legal aspects. To this end, 30 international delegations made the arduous and challenging journey to Palestine, showcasing a rarely exhibited and vocalized solidarity and support for the daily challenges of Palestinians under occupation that is, to this day, unprecedented.
The program's opening ceremony was grand, befitting the significance of the event, featuring speeches by ministers and senior government officials from Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey, among many others, alongside the attendance of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the highest echelons of the Palestinian political leadership.
The significance accorded to the event gives rise to the pertinent question of whether a paradigm shift is underway in changing dynamics of engagement with the Palestinian cause, particularly during the resurgence of isolationist national rhetoric and the relative disavowal of multilateral liberalism and humanism in Middle Eastern politics. On the domestic level, with the actions, projected activities and commitments made by the youth capital program, Palestinians now contend with the promise of hope due to such vocalized support and renewed commitment, opening the door to reassessing the age-old claims of abandonment, token lip service and apathy of the Muslim world for the Palestinian issue. Perhaps most prominent among these developments is the groundbreaking launch of the first ever Palestinian National Youth Council, which is set to present inclusive and nondiscriminatory opportunities for youth from the West Bank and Gaza to have a larger say in national affairs while presenting a larger and more attractive base for international engagement and support of Palestinian youth.
On the regional level, the renewed engagement seen by Gulf Arab states through their visibility in the program is paired with the significance of Abbas's invitation to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to act as the honorary chairman of the program's Council of Patrons in light of his efforts and steadfastness on the Palestinian issue. An engaging dynamic is produced here where Middle Eastern Arab states will have to do more to answer the will of their peoples, and the dominant pro-Palestinian narratives found in their countries. The democratization of solidarity for Palestine in this regard is beyond ideal, and if this Islamic World Youth Capital is able to continue to cultivate constructive engagement that meets the demands of national self-interest, much will be accomplished in terms of reviving the Palestinian cause in the international arena.
What this means for the Palestinian cause is the resurgence of heightened national awareness and engagement with the issue with increasing national dialogue on what can and should be done for it. More essentially, the forging of new ties between alienated generations of Palestinian youth with youth institutions and movements throughout the region, bringing a new breath to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, more international efficacy and deeper sustainability. Coupled with deeper youth governance and its constructive relation to civil society and grassroots movement, Palestinian youth are in a position to be truly empowered.
In this spirit, while the Al-Quds Islamic World Youth Capital 2018 program may not hold a one-stop solution to changing the grim reality of life under occupation, it nonetheless shows promise in revitalizing the Muslim world's consciousness at the highest levels toward support of the Palestinian cause and the preserving the sanctity of Al-Quds Al-Sharif. To this end, and though but a beginning, it is a step in the right direction and warrants support and hope.
*Researcher at the Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation (ICYF-DC)