On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to relocate the US Embassy there, a move expected to increase tensions and lead to violence at a time there is more than enough chaos in the Middle East.
It is 100 years since the British captured Jerusalem from Ottoman hands. But the city still occupies the world agenda.
One of the decision’s most vocal critics is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has called Jerusalem “a red line for Muslims.” He said the move amounted to “throwing the region into a circle of fire.”
Erdogan has conducted talks with several Arab and Muslim leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the heads of states of Malaysia, Tunisia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia. He has called for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to hold an emergency meeting in Istanbul on Dec. 13 to discuss the situation.
“As the temporary president of the OIC, we will follow this issue very closely,” Erdogan said.
Ankara believes that East Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine in a two-state solution along the lines of 1967. Turkey is opposed to Israel’s acting as if Jerusalem is its own property and to the “judaization” of the contested city.
Turkey has tried for a long time to be a relevant player in the peace process. For Turkey, Al-Quds has been an issue where all segments of society and all political parties shared a common view.
The US decision has — somewhat — united opposite sides in Turkey. All four parties in the Turkish Parliament signed a joint statement late on Wednesday, declaring Turkey’s resolve to reject the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
At the local level in Turkey, the response was also harsh, with several protests outside the American Consulate in Istanbul and American Embassy in Ankara.
Erdogan has said Turkey could go as far as to sever all ties with Israel. After six years of stagnant diplomatic relations, Israel and Turkey signed a comprehensive reconciliation deal last year.
On July 23, 1980, Israel declared Jerusalem its eternal capital. Following the ratification of this decision, Turkey closed its consulate in Jerusalem. As in the past, Turkey is expected to solve the current issue through diplomatic channels.
Turkey’s relations with its NATO ally America are no bed of roses. The Jerusalem issue could be the final straw in relationships between the two countries. Indeed, Trump’s move may draw Turkey, which is in close contact with Russia and Iran as part of Astana process for Syria, closer to Tehran. Iran was also among the countries that rejected the idea of relocation of the US Embassy.
Jerusalem and the history of Dec. 9
In the words of prominent Middle East scholar Fred Halliday: “It is certainly important to look at history, and for two reasons above all: History is necessary to explain why countries act as they do, and, equally, to provide a basis for analyzing how states, and their opponents, claim to use, select and falsify history to justify what they do.”
On Dec. 9, 1917, during World War I, British forces led by Gen. Allenby captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire.
On Dec. 9, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with the city of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum (separate entity), to be governed by an international regime.
On Dec. 9, 1987, the first intifada began in the Gaza Strip after a 17-year-old threw a Molotov cocktail at an army patrol and was killed by a Israeli soldier. His death triggered mass riots that engulfed the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.
Fast-forward to today, Dec. 9, 2017. It is 100 years since the British captured Jerusalem from Ottoman hands. But the city still occupies the world agenda, unfortunately.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.