THO Teleconference Examines The Impact of The Jerusalem Decision

Despite unified international response, bilateral Turkey-Israel relations unlikely to change
On December 19, THO hosted a teleconference on “The Jerusalem Decision: The View from Washington, Tel Aviv, and Ankara.

The teleconference was moderated by Dr. Mark Meirowitz (Assistant Professor of Humanities at SUNY Maritime College; Chair of THO’s Advisory Board) and featured the following speakers:

  • Prof. Dr. Cagri Erhan – Rector, Altinbas University
  • Dr. Raphael Danziger – Senior consultant and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, AIPAC
  • Moran Stern – Adjunct Lecturer at the Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University
Jerusalem remains a core component of the peace process

Moran Stern reminded listeners of the significance of the Jerusalem decision, stating that the status of the city is one of the “core” issues in the process to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

He elucidated that at the heart of the dispute over Jerusalem is one question: Who is the sovereign over Jerusalem, especially its holy sites?

He said that there is currently a tacit understanding among certain Palestinian authorities, including the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, that Israel is the sovereign over the city.

Stern argued that the Trump administration’s decision – which he emphasized is solely an American decision – is seen by the average Israeli as a “reaffirmation” of 70 years of reality and more than 3,000 years of history.

Dr. Raphael Danziger also noted that the Trump administration’s decision does not diverge from U.S. policy and that it is a case of a U.S. president implementing the “22-year-old” bipartisan Congressional “Jerusalem Embassy Act,” which was meant to initiate the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He said that as a sovereign nation, Israel is entitled to designate its own capital and that the U.S. is entitled to recognize it, adding that Israel is the only country in the world whose capital is not internationally recognized.  

The impact of the decision on the peace process

Stern argued that the Trump administration’s decision will have no impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process because there simply is no peace process at the present. He also argued that the decision itself is isolated from the broader push for Israeli-Palestinian peace, as it was not supplemented by any concrete action to reinvigorate the peace process.

According to Stern, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been sidelined in recent years by other developments in the Middle East, including the Syria conflict and the rise of ISIS. He argued that if this decision brings the issue back to the center of the international discussion, it could potentially have a positive impact by reigniting the peace process.

Dr. Cagri Erhan argued that the decision, which has drawn strong condemnation from around the world, has effectively left the U.S “alone” in the UN Security Council and on the international stage. He stated that the decision has in fact erased “almost all” of the gains of previous peace attempts.

Dr. Danziger argued that rather than isolating the U.S., the move has given Washington more leverage with Israel to promote peace. He noted that historically there has been a fear that the closer the U.S. draws toward Israel, the less that Arab countries will be inclined to work with Washington on the peace process. He argued that precisely the opposite has been true, with Arab countries seeing the U.S. as the only viable mediator due to its closeness with Israel. He added that there’s no substitute for the U.S. as a peace process facilitator because no other country or group of countries is trusted by Israelis to preserve Israel’s security in a peace deal. Dr. Danziger argued that the only way to move the peace process forward is for the Palestinians to engaged in direct negotiations with Israel with U.S. facilitation. Dr. Erhan agreed that the Arabs need to work with the U.S. and Israel to promote peace.

Turkey’s objection is based on international law

Dr. Erhan explained that from the perspective of the Turkish government, the Trump administration’s decision will not contribute significantly to Middle East peace.

He underlined that objection to the decision is shared by the majority of political parties in Turkey as well as the majority of the Turkish public, and thus, it is not solely an objection voiced by the ruling AKP. He explained that Turkey’s sensitivity to this issue – which is shared by most of the members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – is couched not in emotion but in international law.

Dr. Erhan described a recent statement made by the OIC, which referenced United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 as a basis for why the Trump administration’s decision goes against international law. Dr. Erhan said that this resolution – which was passed in 1980 and not vetoed by the U.S. – urges states to “refrain” from supporting Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as its capital. Dr. Danziger countered that Resolution 478 was not under Chapter 7 and thus nonbinding.

Dr. Erhan noted that the Muslim world is not alone in its condemnation of the Trump administration’s decision, underlining that a December 18 vote in the UN Security Council on a draft resolution urging the U.S. to reverse its decision won the support of 14 of 15 Security Council members, with the only veto coming from the U.S. Dr. Erhan argued that this development shows an overwhelmingly unified international response against the U.S.’ decision.

Dr. Erhan noted that there is now the possibility that Turkey or other members of the UN Security Council or the UN as a whole will push for the draft resolution to be considered in the General Assembly by using a mechanism laid out by UNGA Resolution 377 A, which was passed in 1950.

Resolution 377, also called the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, allows matters of international peace and security to be considered in the General Assembly rather than the Security Council in the event that the Security Council is unable to “exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.”

Potential impact on Turkey-Israel relations

Given Turkey’s strong condemnation of the Jerusalem decision – as well as increasingly harsh rhetoric against Israel expressed by Turkish President Erdogan – Dr. Meirowitz asked the speakers if they believed that there would be any fallout from the decision on Turkey-Israel relations.

Dr. Erhan reminded listeners that Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel and that it established diplomatic relations with the country in 1949. He noted that while it is important to recognize areas of convergence in the bilateral relationship (such as trade, energy, and security cooperation), it is important not to forget that Israel’s attitude toward the Palestinians will always create tension in the Turkey-Israel relationship.

Both Stern and Dr. Danziger expressed their confusion as to why President Erdogan has chosen to threaten the bilateral Turkey-Israel relationship in response to the Jerusalem decision, given that the decision was made by the Trump administration and not by the Israeli government.

Regardless, Stern argued that the rhetoric from Ankara is meant primarily to boost Turkey’s image in the region and to capture the attention of the Arab street; thus, he does not expect it to be followed by concrete action.

Dr. Danziger emphasized that even during the difficult period in Turkey-Israel relations following the Mavi Marmara incident, trade between the countries boomed. He noted that Turkish Airlines currently brings more people into and out of Israel than any other non-Israeli airline. He emphasized that while the relationship is experiencing tensions, he does not believe that it will suffer a cutoff again because of the Jerusalem decision.