A window of opportunity for Turkey-EU ties
U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back in the headlines.
The issue had been neglected for some time, partly because the world has all but abandoned hopes of reconciling the two sides, but also because the Arab Spring and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stole the spotlight, ultimately forcing regional actors to focus more on combating terrorism.
Trump’s declaration reminded us once more that as long as there is no fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peace is impossible in the Middle East. In a globalized world, neither distances nor borders provide protection; that is why the instability spreading from the region will continue to haunt “comfortable others” living in the West.
Terror groups, meanwhile, will continue to capitalize on the plight of Palestinians and use Muslim resentment to recruit new fighters.
It is worrisome that the wave of protests set off in the Muslim world could precipitate a spiral of violence that could even reach Muslims in Europe. Demonstrations have already taken place in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. A firebomb attack on a Swedish synagogue a few days ago is a clear example of how criticism of Israel easily blurs into anti-Semitism and results in attacks on ordinary Jews. Trump’s decision was met with reaction not only from the Muslim world but also from the European Union, Russia and China, which argued that only Israelis and Palestinians can decide on the status of Jerusalem, not a third party.
However, there is also a growing sense of pessimism that the reaction of the Muslim world will fall short of creating concrete political results that extend beyond symbolic gestures and condemnations, especially given the complex strategic and business ties between the Gulf countries and Washington. Accordingly, perhaps we need to differentiate between the ineptitude of regional governments and the deep frustration in Arab societies.
It is not realistic to expect the Trump administration to reverse its position on this issue, even though his decision clearly presents a break with previous administrations, damages the impartiality of the United States as an honest broker and undermines international law. It is nevertheless important for the rest of the world to at least push for a just and fair peace process. In this respect, an emergency Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting under the auspices of the chair, Turkey, on Dec. 13 was an important step in terms of pursuing all diplomatic solutions within the framework of international law.
As a member of the OIC, an EU candidate and a close ally of Russia, Turkey has a unique capacity to bring Muslim countries together with Europe, Russia, China and even Iran.
There is a possibility that the United Nations General Assembly could issue a decision on Jerusalem if a majority of U.N. members provide their backing. The assembly might not be able to enforce its decision, but no one can discount the diplomatic significance of any such vote. In this context, perhaps, the only silver lining in the crisis is that it presents a window of opportunity to improve Turkey-EU ties.
Turkey and Europe have a shared interest in preventing new tensions in the Middle East that could exacerbate the refugee flow. They also seem to be on the same side when it comes to integrating Iran within the orders of the nuclear deal.
Ankara’s diplomatic initiatives could help change European perceptions that Turkey is more than just a buffer zone against threats from the Middle East, but an actual contributor to solutions with its unique geopolitical position and identity that links continents and civilizations.
Despite all its shortcomings, the EU is still a significant actor in balancing against Trump’s unilateralism, which relies on a narrow definition of interests based on “making America great again” at the expense of allies and international law.
At such a time, Turkey’s steps to revitalize visa liberalization talks with the EU warrant close attention. If Turkish policymakers eventually agree to redefine the contentious anti-terror law, it will bring Turkey closer to EU values and the outcome will be a win-win for both sides.