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Expected US declaration on Jerusalem threatens fragile Israel-Turkey ties

US President Donald Trump's call to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came as Washington contemplates a longer term military presence to influence the fate of Syria
Brendan Smialowski (AFP)
Erdogan's threat came amid a chorus of international warnings, but seemed to strike a particular nerve

Mounting speculation that US President Donald Trump was readying to make an announcement backing Israel's claim over the holy city of Jerusalem sparked a diplomatic war of words between Israel and Turkey on Tuesday, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to sever recently-renewed ties with the Jewish State if such a declaration was made.

Warning Trump that the status of Jerusalem was a "red line" for Muslims, Erdogan said that Turkey would "follow this struggle to the very last moment with determination and we could even go right up to cutting our diplomatic relations with Israel."

Erdogan's threat came as warnings against the controversial move came pouring in from around the world, but Turkey's threat in particular seemed to strike a nerve and immediately ignited contemptuous responses from Israeli officials, who seemed unconcerned with losing Turkish support.

"Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3,000 years and the capital of Israel for 70 years, whether Erdogan acknowledges that or not," a senior Israeli official said.

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said similarly, "Erdogan's threats will not change the true fact: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the Jewish people for 3,000 years. Recognizing it is a natural thing."

THOMAS COEX (AFP)

Firebrand Education Minister and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett dismissed the Turkish president's threat, saying that "unfortunately, in recent years, Erdogan has not missed an opportunity to attack Israel."

"Israel must advance its goals, including recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. There is always someone to criticize, but in the end it is better to have a united Jerusalem than Erdogan's love," Bennett added.

Minister of Transportation and Intelligence, Israel Katz, said “we do not accept instructions and threats from the President of Turkey. Israel is a sovereign state and Jerusalem is its capital. There is no more right and more historic move than to recognize Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people” adding, “the days of the Sultan and the Ottoman Empire have passed.”

Chairman of the Israel's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avi Dichter stated that Erdogan would not be the first leader to succeed in persuading Israel "on key issues in its national identity," adding that the recognition of Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish State and the transfer of foreign embassies there "are two steps that should have taken place 70 years ago, and are the parts of the puzzle that are lacking in the independence of the State of Israel."

AFP / ADEM ALTAN

- Shaky ground -

Last year, Turkey and Israel ended a rift triggered by Israel's deadly storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead and led to a downgrading of diplomatic ties.

The two sides have since stepped up cooperation in particular in energy but Erdogan, who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often bitterly critical of Israeli policy.

The United States is a strong supporter of a strong relationship between Turkey, the key Muslim member of NATO, and Israel, which is Washington's main ally in the Middle East.

Erdogan's comments came after the White House said Trump would miss a deadline to decide on shifting the embassy from Tel Aviv, after a frantic 48 hours of public warnings from allies and private phone calls between world leaders.

AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File

Warnings against an expected announcement by the United States backing Israel's claim over the holy city of Jerusalem poured in from around the world on Tuesday, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and Arab league all voicing fresh concern over the fallout of such a contentious move.

President Donald Trump faces a key decision this week over Jerusalem's status, potentially reversing years of US policy and prompting a furious response from the Palestinians and the Arab world.

Trump has yet to make his final decision, US officials have said, but he is now expected to stop short of moving the embassy to Jerusalem -- though he may still recognize the city as Israel's capital.

Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital and previous peace plans have stumbled over debates on whether, and how, to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites.

(Staff with AFP)

Comments

(1)

On balance, I think that Israel can live without Turkey but it can certainly not live without a united Jerusalem as it’s capital.

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