December 25, 2017
On December 6, President Trump signed the Act which recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
A week later, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) met in Istanbul at summit level on current chair Turkey’s initiative and strongly condemned the decision; declared East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine; and, invited all countries to recognize the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.
On December 18, the US vetoed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution on Jerusalem.
Finally, on December 21, the UN General Assembly expressing its deep regret at “recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem” affirmed, with overwhelming majority, that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded. It also called upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The resolution, like the draft Washington vetoed in the Security Council, does not mention the US explicitly but the message is clear.
Thus, in two weeks, the question of Palestine/Jerusalem moved up on the world/Middle East agenda.
A day before the General Assembly vote, President Trump reflecting Ambassador Nikki Haley’s unfortunate remarks about “taking names”, suggested that billions of dollars in US foreign aid depended on how countries would vote. Many US allies supported the General Assembly Resolution. Among others who voted “yes” were Afghanistan, Iraq and notably the two Koreas making President Trump’s remarks on foreign aid a somewhat empty threat. Nonetheless, the foregoing shows once again that the Trump administration is on a different path on the question of Palestine that its predecessors. In the final days of the Obama presidency, the US had abstained in the vote on Security Council Resolution 2334 (2026) condemning Israel’s settlement construction.
A few observations on the current picture:
Turkey established official relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1975 and was one of the first countries that recognized the Palestinian State established in exile in November 1988. For years, long before the coming to power of the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP), Turkey steadfastly underlined the importance of resolving the Palestinian issue in open forums and behind closed doors including in talks with Israel. Yet, the Palestinian delegation to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) always remained among the leading obstructionists of the most innocent expressions of OIC support for the Turkish Cypriots. Hopefully, they have learnt a lesson.
In recent years Turkey has been more vocal than any other country in speaking out for the Palestinians. Thus, our relations with Israel suffered major setbacks. During the past two weeks, the government directed the strongest criticism at the Trump administration and still continues to do so. All of this is happening at a time when Turkish-American relations are already at an all-time low, moving closer to a rupture. Having united the OIC in its condemnation of the Trump decision and played a leading role at the UN General Assembly, Ankara now needs to calm down and start thinking of its broad interests. 128 Countries supported for the General Assembly Resolution but Turkey was second to none in its criticism of the US. Ankara’s confrontation with Washington is not sustainable regardless of who is in the White House.
The Security Council and General Assembly voting on Jerusalem must have shown Ankara that broad categorizations of defiance against the UN and the West are exaggerated and do not serve Turkey’s interests. Fourteen members of the Security Council supported the draft resolution vetoed by the US and many of America’s Western allies voted “yes” for the General Assembly Resolution. In other words, Turkey is not the one and only country in the world “standing up for its foreign policy principles”.
All in all, last two weeks’ developments have been a setback for both for the Trump administration and Israel. The OIC’s Istanbul Final Communique and the UN General Assembly Resolution say that President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is “null and void”. This is a strong but a political statement since the Trump decision is perfectly binding for the US and will not be rescinded. In other words, the bigger challenge, as before, remains the revival of the peace process. Turkey has led the anti-Trump front if one may call it that, but the question “who would now lead the effort for peace” is just as important, if not more. In order to demonstrate that Turkey can also be helpful in urging the US to resume a more balanced role in the peace process, Ankara needs to tone down its anti-Trump rhetoric.
Before the General Assembly vote, the CNN reported that a senior foreign diplomat, who spoke anonymously to protect relations with the Trump administration said, “Nine times out of 10, it’s the US asking the rest of the UN for support, not vice versa… For many members, especially Western ones, their votes reflect positions they’ve held for 50 years… The two-state solution, the status of Jerusalem through negotiation, etc. — they are supposed to abandon 50 years of policy, for what exactly?”
President Trump’s personal interventions, his controversial remarks, his tweets have led to questions regarding his administration’s unity on foreign and security policy. Moreover, Ambassador Nikki Haley is America’s face at the world organization. As shown by the latest Jerusalem episode, her aggressive attitude defying diplomatic norms does not serve US interests. The UN, despite all its failures, remains the only forum where countries including major powers have no other choice than to search for effective multilateralism.