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Oh Jerusalem!

Israel and Turkey signed a normalization deal after six years of diplomatic impasse and exchanged ambassadors during the second half of 2016. Since then, major steps are taken to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries. Two sides agreed to exchange visits by government ministers as well as business, academic and cultural delegations. Both parties reaffirmed the importance of improved Turkish-Israeli relations for the stability and security of the Middle East. Recently, I had the chance to discuss Turkish-Israeli energy negotiations with Shaul Meridor, Director-General of Israeli Ministry of Energy and Ron Adam, Special Envoy on Energy of Israeli Foreign Ministry during the 8th Atlantic Council summit held in Istanbul. They were both very positive about the ongoing negotiations and said that an agreement to strike a deal for the energy trade between the two countries was expected soon, in a matter of 3-4 months. So it looked like both sides had the determination and will to fully restore their relationship.

However, with the recent Jerusalem dispute, we are returned to square one. This is an unexpected but not surprising development. Sparring Israel was a useful tool to gain and increase domestic support in the past. However, the Turkish- Israeli reconciliation remains a bold and strategic decision taken in defiance of popular sentiment.
There is still distrust between the two parties and it looks like the flawless progress achieved in the last couple of months was a dream too good to be true.
There is a lot of conferences and exhibitions going on in Turkey about Jerusalem these days. This maybe the result of the approaching Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem day), the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem following the 1967 War which will be celebrated on May 24th in Israel.
President Erdogan’s speech during the Awqaf Week and International Forum on Al-Quds Waqfs held in Istanbul with the participation of the the Prime Minister of Palestinian Authority Rami el-Hamdallah were his harshest words against Israel since the reconciliation agreement. He criticized the Judaization of Jerusalem and the Muezzin bill which will prevent the use of loudspeakers during the early morning prayers. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and AK Party Istanbul deputy Burhan Kuzu, criticized severely Israel as well.

The Israel Foreign Ministry responded to Erdogan's comments with a strongly-worded statement. For now, the affair has ended without escalating further, following a telephone conversation held between Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem and Turkish ambassador to Israel Kemal Okem. It looks like there is no desire to continue the confrontation. However, both sides are ready to retaliate if the tension continues.

Karel Valansi, May 9, 2017

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