Turkey’s stance on Jerusalem limited to rhetoric

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Since US President Donald Trump acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, much of the world has spoken out with disdain, and Muslim countries have expressed outrage.

Trump’s decision has put the already volcanic Middle East on a path toward another eruption. Fear of another spate of bloodshed and violence has become fresh, and the Palestinian struggle is about to embark on another chapter of despair. Without any doubt, the volatile region will go into tailspin over the Jerusalem issue, which will put the world’s Muslim community at loggerheads with Israel.

The United States’ unilateral declaration on Jerusalem has given Turkey a great opening for establishing its dominance over the Middle East and, more important, over the world Muslim community. While the relations between Ankara and Washington have been deteriorating swiftly, the Jerusalem question has put the two major NATO allies in a war of words. As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rightly put it, “Jerusalem is the red line for Muslims,” and the situation will not settle down quickly.

However, do these rhetorical statements by Erdogan really have much significance on its ties with Israel and the US?

Apart from the political aim of gaining popularity from the Muslim community, Erdogan’s bold statements will remain in the form of political rhetoric, and nothing more than that.

Turkey has strong ties with Israel, and that relationship cannot just be wrapped up overnight. Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel in 1949. Since then, the ties between the two countries have gotten much stronger.

The two countries signed a free-trade agreement in 1996. Since then, they have seen a steady rise in bilateral trade.

After the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010, political relations between the two countries hit rock bottom, but they have revived, largely at the behest of Turkey. After the normalization of ties, trade between the two countries got a boost.

Turkish exports to Israel were worth US$2.5 billion in 2016, and in first 10 months of 2017, grew by 14%.

Israel and Turkey have solid cooperation in the field of energy, and according to Israeli officials, have reached “an advanced stage for gas-pipeline route talks and pricing.” Turkey also maintains defense collaboration with Israel, being a customer for the latter’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Turkish Army has to depend on Israel for equipment for the heavily upgraded Sabra main battle tank. Turkey is one of the top destinations for Israeli tourists, and Turkish Airlines is very popular among Israeli travelers.

Being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey has to maintain some specific “unmentioned” guidelines, like fellow members. It has become an unwritten obligation for NATO countries to follow Washington’s guidelines in specific directions, no matter how much they hurt the respective countries’ interests. As a dominating power, the US exercises significant leverage over other NATO member countries. That also puts Turkey under some kind “obligation” to maintain rapprochement with Israel, which is a major non-NATO ally.

The political rhetoric between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Erdogan is nothing new, and neither of them can boast of major human-rights accolades. Netanyahu quipped, “I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions.” Yet this statement came from the same person whose administration routinely imprisons Palestinians, ignoring human rights in the name of law and order.

Yet the two states are carrying on with business as usual. At a time when the political relationship is tense between Israel and Turkey over Jerusalem, businesses from the two countries found the time right for a deal worth €18.6 million ($21.9 million). So money talks.

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