Commentary, Politics

Taking over guardianship of Jerusalem

Turkey's determination on the Jerusalem issue outdistances the Arab countries that no longer see Palestine as a priority.

Last week, Turkey hosted two crucial meetings that were intended to raise awareness about Israel’s May 14 massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. By organizing those events, Ankara condemned Washington’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the subsequent relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At the same time, Turks hoped to highlight the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, which has kept silent in the face of Zionists’ seemingly endless massacres in Palestine.

The first event took place in Yenikapi, Istanbul and attracted hundreds of thousands of participants. Hours later, Turkey hosted an extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It was noteworthy that several Muslim leaders, who traveled to Istanbul to attend the OIC summit, also attended the Yenikapi rally. Emotional speeches delivered by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan echoed the sentiments of everyone that condemned Israeli oppression. Together they spoke for people who “saw the Al-Aqsa Mosque in their dreams.” Another important point was that this historic event took place in Yenikapi where the July 15 resistance was celebrated after the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

The Palestinian question and the Jerusalem cause are not just simple foreign policy issues for the Turkish people. Those issues have united people from various political and cultural backgrounds who rarely agree on anything. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian issue is much bigger than the plight of Palestinians and the humanitarian tragedy taking place in their native lands. For Turks, the Palestinian cause is part and parcel of their own national struggle. After all, the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and the sack of Jerusalem were interrelated developments. At the same time, the fact that Palestinians have been suffering for 70 years is a reminder that there has been no peace in the Middle East since the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The Jerusalem rally in Istanbul proved that protecting the Islamic faith’s holy sites, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, is part of Turkish national identity. Erdoğan stressed this point as follows: “Jerusalem isn’t just a city. Jerusalem is a symbol. It is a test. Jerusalem is a qibla [the direction which Muslims turn at prayer ]. If we cannot protect our first qibla, we cannot trust that we can protect our last qibla.” Yıldırım added that Palestine was “Turkey’s question [and] our nation’s question.” Bahçeli echoed the same sentiment: “If Jerusalem falls, history falls and Islam will stumble. If Jerusalem falls, Ankara falls and Istanbul would be scorched.”In light of those statements, efforts have been made by Western media and Gulf-based commentators to link the interest shown by the Turkish government and Erdoğan in the Jerusalem cause to the upcoming early elections in Turkey. It is quite clear, however, that Ankara’s strong support to the Jerusalem cause put Arab governments in a difficult spot in the eyes of their people. Needless to say, countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which used to play an active role in Palestine, are working with the Donald Trump administration and Israel to reshape the Middle East. Paying lip service to the “deal of the century,” they are trying to force a dishonorable peace and a statelet without Jerusalem down Palestine’s throat. Simply put, they seek to de-emphasize Jerusalem’s role in Palestine’s national identity and ensure the country receives less attention in their respective foreign policies.It is an unprecedented situation that Arab leaders consider Palestine an impediment on their national interests, as Jerusalem gains more importance for Turkey. They did not see Iran’s aggressive and anti-Semitic discourse of resistance as a challenge. Quite the contrary, Tehran lost its credibility in the eyes of Sunnis by playing a negative role in the Syrian civil war. Wahhabi scholars found it easy to issue anti-Iran fatwas to legitimize the Gulf’s cooperation with Israel. In contrast, Erdoğan makes a distinction between Zionists and Jews, calls for justice and urges people around the region to resist Israeli oppression. He sends a revolutionary message that complains about Israel and its supporters without resorting to anti-Semitism or anti-Westernism.

In summary, Erdogan’s emphasis on leading the Jerusalem cause and taking over the city’s guardianship at Yenikapi must be considered an open challenge against those who seek to redesign the Middle East.

Source: Daily Sabah

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Burhanettin Duran received his B.A. in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University in 1993 and obtained his Ph.D in Political Science from Bilkent University in 2001. Currently, Dr. Duran is a Professor at Ibn Haldun University and the General Coordinator of SETA Foundation.