Erdogan threatens to cut ties with Israel over Jerusalem controversy

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the Parliament in Ankara on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 06 December 2017

Erdogan threatens to cut ties with Israel over Jerusalem controversy

ANKARA: Speaking at a parliamentary group meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey may cut its diplomatic ties with Israel if Washington follows through on its reportedly impending recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“You cannot take such a step. Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” he said, adding that such a decision would be the violation of international law, and “a big blow to the conscience of humanity.”
Erdogan also stated that, if US President Donald Trump’s administration does take such a step, Turkey would call for an immediate meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which Turkey currently chairs, to oppose it.
On Monday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters that formal recognition of Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital would lead to a new conflict in the Middle East and result in a major catastrophe.
“The status of Jerusalem and Temple Mount has been determined by international agreements. It is important to preserve Jerusalem's status for the sake of protecting peace in the region,” he said.
However, these critical statements, echoing the warnings of other regional leaders, come amid a nascent and fragile push for normalization between Turkey and Israel, with the restoration of diplomatic ties at ambassadorial level in 2016 following a serious political crisis when 10 Turkish activists were killed in the 2010 Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara flotilla.
Experts think the potential fallout from recognition of Jerusalem will further complicate not only Turkey-Israel relations, by obstructing the ongoing efforts for rapprochement process, but will also have serious repercussions throughout the region.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues for the Muslim world, including Turkey.
“Such a decision would be ill-timed and controversial in the sense that provoking tension between the Arab world and Israel will not only undermine US efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace, but also damage the fragile cooperation between Israel and the Gulf countries against Iran,” Selin Nasi, an Istanbul-based analyst of Israel-Turkey relations, told Arab News, while noting that Turkey’s capacity to prevent the US from recognizing Jerusalem is limited.
She added that Turkey’s position on the status of Jerusalem has been a consistent one.
“Turkey opposed Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem following the 1967 War. In 1980, when Israel’s Knesset passed the Basic Law, Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, which declared Jerusalem as Israel’s complete and united capital, Turkey downgraded diplomatic relations to second secretary status,” Nasi explained.
Trump’s possible recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “will likely damage efforts to rebuild mutual trust” between Turkey and Israel, she suggested, adding however that since 2016 low-profile relations have continued through issue-based partnerships.
As an immediate reaction to Erdogan’s comments on Tuesday, Israel’s Haaretz quoted a senior Israeli official as saying, “Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3,000 years and the capital of Israel for 70 years, whether Erdogan recognizes it as such or not.”
The Israeli Minister of Intelligence and of Transportation, Yisrael Katz, tweeted, “We don’t take orders or accept threats from the president of Turkey.”
Nimrod Goren, head of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, told Arab News: “The efforts by Arab and Muslim countries make clear to the US administration that they flatly reject an American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and that such a move will have negative consequences regarding prospects for peace, are legitimate.”
He added that such efforts “are said to have already influenced Trump's past decisions regarding a possible embassy move to Jerusalem.”
Nevertheless, he added, Turkey’s threat to cut ties with Israel does not make sense in this context, and may derive from a wish to appeal to public opinion in the region.
“The controversies between Israel and Turkey regarding Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue are known and are not new,” Goren said. “They are already making an impact on bilateral ties and are limiting the degree of cooperation between the countries. But, Turkey and Israel have managed — since the signing of their reconciliation agreement — to find ways in which they can develop working relations despite the controversies. It would be a mistake to let a wrong decision by Trump ruin this.”
Trump is expected to announce his final decision on the recognition of Jerusalem on Wednesday.


Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

Updated 18 min 16 sec ago

Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

  • Education centers risk closing or reducing costs after nationwide disruption

BEIRUT: The future of thousands of Lebanese students is at stake as private educational institutions assess their ability to continue operations in the next academic year, due to the economic crunch facing Lebanon.

“If the economic situation continues, private schools will be forced to close down for good, a move that will affect more than 700,000 students, 59,000 teachers and 15,000 school administrators,” said Father Boutros Azar, secretary-general of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools in Lebanon, and coordinator of the Association of Private Educational Institutions in Lebanon.

Over 1,600 private schools are operating in Lebanon, including free schools and those affiliated to various religion societies, Azar said.

The number of public schools in Lebanon, he added, is 1,256, serving 328,000 students from the underprivileged segment of society and 200,000 Syrian refugee students.

“The number of teachers in the formal education sector is 43,500 professors and teachers — 20,000 of them are permanent staff and the rest work on a contract basis,” Azar said.

This development will also have an impact on private universities, whose number has increased to 50 in the past 20 years.

Ibrahim Khoury, a special adviser to the president of the American University of Beirut (AUB), told Arab News: “All universities in Lebanon are facing an unprecedented crisis, and the message of AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, a few weeks ago, was a warning about the future of university education in light of the economic crisis that Lebanon is facing.”

Khoury said many universities would likely reduce scientific research and dispense with certain specializations.

“Distance education is ongoing, but classes must be opened for students in the first semester of next year, but we do not yet know what these classes are.”

Khoury added: “Universities are still following the official exchange rate of the dollar, which is 1,512 Lebanese pounds (LBP), but the matter is subject to future developments.”

Lebanese parents are also worried about the future of their children, after the current school year ended unexpectedly due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr. Tarek Majzoub, the minister of education and higher education, ended the academic year in public schools and gave private schools the right to take a call on this issue.

He said: “The coming academic year will witness intensification of lessons and a review of what students have missed.”

But what sort of academic year should students expect?

Differences have developed between school owners, parents, and teachers over the payment of tuition fees and teachers’ salaries.

Azar said: “What I know so far is that 80 percent of the Catholic schools in Lebanon will close their doors next year unless they are financially helped. Some families today are unable to pay the rest of the dues for the current year either because their breadwinners were fired or not working, while others do not want to pay dues because schools remain closed due to the pandemic.

“Lebanese people chose private schools for their children because they trusted them for their quality — 70 percent of Lebanese children go to private schools. Today, we are facing a major crisis, and I say that if education collapses in Lebanon, then the area surrounding Lebanon will collapse. Many Arab students from the Gulf states receive their education in the most prestigious Lebanese schools,” he added.

“What we are witnessing today is that the educational contract is no longer respected. It can be said that what broke the back of school owners is the approval by the Lebanese parliament in 2018 of a series of ranks and salaries that have bankrupted the state treasury and put all institutions in a continuous deficit.”

Those in charge of formal education expect a great rush for enrollment in public schools and universities, but the ability of these formal institutions to absorb huge numbers of students is limited.

Majzoub said that his ministry was “working on proposing a law to help private schools provide a financial contribution for each learner within the available financial capabilities or grants that can be obtained.”

The undersecretary of the Teachers’ Syndicate in Private Schools, former government minister Ziad Baroud, said: “The crisis of remaining student fees and teachers’ salaries needs to be resolved by special legislation in parliament that regulates the relationship between all parties — teachers, parents, and schools — and takes into account the measures to end teachers’ contracts before July 5.”

Baroud spoke of “hundreds of teachers being discharged from their schools every year based on a legal article that gives the right to school owners to dismiss any teacher from service, provided that they send the teacher a notification before July 5.”

H said it should be kept in mind that thousands of teachers have not yet received their salaries for the last four months, and some of them had received only 50 percent or even less of their salaries.

Khoury said: “The AUB received a loan from the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami at the beginning of the 1975 Lebanese civil war to keep it afloat. In the 1990s, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri provided aid and grants to the universities. Today, no one can help universities.”

Last Thursday, the Lebanese parliament adopted a proposal submitted by the leader of the Future Parliamentary Bloc, Bahia Hariri, to allocate LBP300 billion to the education sector to help it mitigate the effects of COVID-19.