Turkey to continue its diplomatic moves for al-Aqsa

Turkey to continue its diplomatic moves for al-Aqsa

It has become clear that two-week long tensions in East Jerusalem will linger as Israel will continue to take restrictive measures to Palestinians’ access to the Harem al-Sherif, one of the most holiest sites, not only for the people of Palestine but for the entire Muslim world.

Although metal detectors and barriers have been removed from the gates of the holy site, tension has remained in place as Israel deployed an excessive number of security personnel after Palestinians declared July 28 as a Day of Rage and called for massive protests.

For Turkey, the Israeli government’s move in East Jerusalem is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-standing comprehensive policy. Having abandoned the internationally recognized two-state solution that would allow the establishment of the State of Palestine along with the State of Israel, Netanyahu is trying to expand control and influence in the occupied territories as well as in East Jerusalem.

This policy is seemingly threefold: It envisages more pressure on the Gaza Strip through a continued blockade despite international calls that life conditions are worsening in the enclave. This aims to minimize security concerns that could be posed from Hamas and other armed groups while allowing the Israeli government to ensure maximum control.

The second aspect is to create a de-facto annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories through settlement projects. The Israeli government has intensified new housing projects in the last six months after Donald Trump took over the Oval Office from Barack Obama who had initiated a United Nations resolution on the issue in his last days as the President of the United States.

The third is about East Jerusalem. With Trump signaling that the U.S. could remove its embassy in Jerusalem, Netanyahu intensified its plans to reduce the Islamic character of the city. The violence on July 14 that left two Israeli policemen dead pushed the Israeli government to increase its sovereignty in the Old City on the grounds of security reasons.

To Ankara, international developments have been regarded by the Israeli government as creating the best suitable environment to accelerate Netanyahu’s policy. Apart from Trump’s effect, ongoing division within the Islamic world, the tension between Qatar and the Saudi Arabia-led Arab world, the ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq, the fight against jihadists across the Middle East are other factors that have pushed Israel to this end.   

From the very beginning, Turkey was well aware that tension needs to be defused in order to avoid unwanted developments in the already unstable region. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke on the phone with both the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and raised the issue in his talks with Gulf leaders during his tour. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also held a number of talks with his counterparts, including Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, although the two countries are still at odds on many bilateral and regional issues.

As the term president of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Turkey will chair an extraordinary meeting in Istanbul next week where foreign ministers will discuss the tension in detail.

All these tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis are also very important in terms of ongoing efforts for the normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel. Turkey made clear to Israel that the al-Aqsa Mosque and Muslim access to the holy sites in Jerusalem are a red line and that it will not hesitate to openly criticize the Israeli government’s efforts to change the status of the mentioned sites. Israel did respond to Turkey’s strong-worded criticisms with undiplomatic language in a statement it later removed from Twitter.

Recent tension and developments have shown the existing dialogue between Turkey and Israel has vital importance in avoiding a further crisis and that both countries need to see that diplomacy has no alternative. That’s why the utmost attention and care needs to be paid by Turkey and Israel to not turn an ongoing problem in East Jerusalem into a fresh bilateral crisis.