Jerusalem row to further ruin Turkey’s ties with US, Israel

Jerusalem row to further ruin Turkey’s ties with US, Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump will certainly make history as one of the most irresponsible and insensitive world leaders. His controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has already claimed the lives of dozens of Palestinians, further de-stabilizing the already fragile Middle East.

The relocation came just days after Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, a development that could trigger future conflicts and tension between Iran and Israel. It could also deepen ongoing sectarian-based unrest in the region as Saudi-led Sunni countries seem to have been much more encouraged against the Iranian regime.

As expected, Turkey was among the most vocal countries against the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem on May 14 and the killing of scores of Palestinian protestors by Israeli security forces. Turkey’s reaction to the U.S.-Israeli move has two main folds, multilateral and unilateral.

As the term president of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Turkey called on the body to hold an extraordinary meeting in Istanbul just like it did in December 2017. Both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu have engaged in hectic diplomacy to make an OIC meeting in Istanbul possible on May 18. The summit is expected to issue a declaration as a follow-up of the Istanbul Declaration that was agreed during the OIC’s December 2017 meeting.

At the same time, Turkish diplomacy is also active for the convention of the U.N. General Assembly for a special session on Jerusalem, as the U.S. will veto any U.N. Security Council initiative on the matter. It will also continue its efforts to organize a joint meeting between the OIC and the European Union as well as other relevant international organizations.

However, the unilateral reaction is also complicated. Turkey has recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and to Israel for consultations after “condemning” and “cursing” both countries over the incidents on May 14.

On ties with the U.S., recalling Turkey’s envoy to Washington comes at a moment when the two governments are seeking ways to mend ties after the appointment of Mike Pompeo as U.S. secretary of state.

It is not clear how long the Turkish ambassador will be away from his office, but this situation will have the practical effect of lowering diplomatic relations between the two countries to the level of chargé d’affairs, as the U.S. has had no ambassador in the Turkish capital since October 2017. It is also yet to be seen whether Çavuşoğlu’s planned visit to Washington to meet Pompeo will be affected by this tension. That could prevent the two allies from establishing sound communication channels to resolve the many pending bilateral problems.

The row over Jerusalem will certainly affect Turkey’s ties with Israel. Turkey and Israel had exchanged ambassadors in late 2016 after the latter fulfilled three conditions imposed by the Turkish government over the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Almost one-and-a-half years on, the Turkish envoy has been recalled to Ankara.

An interesting statement came on May 15 from Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who said Muslim countries should review their ties with Israel. This could be cited as a new phenomenon for Turkish diplomacy, as in the past it was usually Muslim-majority countries that called on Turkey to review its ties with Israel. Yıldırım’s statement could also be interpreted as meaning that Turkey is in a process of reviewing its ties with Israel, which is why it calls on other Islamic countries to do the same. We will see in the coming days whether Turkey will consider formally lowering its level of diplomatic relations with Israel.

Last but not least, the Turkish government has also announced that it will hold two big rallies on Friday in Istanbul and on Sunday in Diyarbakır, in a bid to show solidarity with Palestine and the Palestinian people.

In short, Trump’s reckless moves in the Middle East will unfortunately further destabilize the entire region and drag it to future tragedies. It will also deepen existing disputes between Washington and Turkey and likely ruin Ankara’s ties with Tel Aviv.