Israel held a sharply worded phone call with Turkey’s Ambassador Kemal Okem on Tuesday to protest his country’s sudden verbal assault on the Jewish state
unleashed the day before.
The sudden dust storm in an already rocky relationship came less than one year after the two nations reestablished full diplomatic ties following a six-year freeze. Okem, who could not be reached for comment, only arrived in Israel in December.
Foreign Ministry Director- General Yuval Rotem spoke with Okem in the morning, at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Diplomatic sources said they were hopeful the incident was behind them.
On Twitter, minister-without- portfolio Ayoub Kara said he believed the situation had begun to cool down.
“Israel and Turkey don’t want this spark to turn into a fire. In my talks with Turkish officials, relations are returning to normal in the common interest of both countries,” he said.
But Israeli politicians issued a number of strongly worded objections to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call for Muslims to flock to the Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount to oppose Israel’s “occupation” of Jerusalem.
“As a Muslim community, we need to visit al-Aksa Mosque often. Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us,” Erdogan said, according to the Istanbul-based Daily Sabah newspaper. He accused Israel of blocking religious freedom and spoke against the possibility that the United States would relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
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Later in the day, Erdogan told visiting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah that their two governments should work together to “protect Jerusalem against attempts of Judaization.” The two leaders also spoke of the possibility of holding a joint meeting in the West Bank against the Israeli “occupation.”
Following the meeting between Erdogan and Hamdallah, Faid Mustafa, the Palestinian ambassador to Turkey, told the Voice of Palestine, the official PA radio station, that Ankara had decided to transfer $10 million into the PA’s coffers.
President Reuven Rivlin said, “We have heard voices which attack Israel for building Jewish life in Jerusalem. I must tell these people: For the last 150 years there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Even under the Ottoman Empire there was a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Under Israeli sovereignty we continue to build Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”’ Former Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold said that Erdogan’s comments, though inexcusable, should be seen within the context in which he made them, the International Forum on Al-Quds Wakfs (Islamic trusts) in Istanbul.
Israel and Turkey have joint interests, but “one cannot expect a highly ideological party like the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to completely align itself with the Israeli view,” he said. He likened Israel’s ties with Turkey to Great Britain’s with ally Soviet Union during the Second World War.
Prime minister Winston Churchill “came from a very anti-Communist orientation, but he understood the greater good of having a partner who would help Britain contain Germany,” Gold said.
There is a much larger picture here as Israel seeks allies to stop the “spread of Iranian power and hegemony today,” particularly given the presence of Iranian troops in Syria and Iraq and its influence in Lebanon and Yemen, said Gold, who is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Turkey recognized Israel in 1949 and was the first Muslim country to do so. It had strong ties with Israel in the 1990s, but the relationship cooled after Erdogan first became prime minister in 2003.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said that “as long as Erdogan is Turkey’s leader, ties will not go back to what they were.”
Those ties hit a low point in 2010, when Israel Navy commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara ship that was part of a protest flotilla attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza were attacked and subsequently killed nine Turkish activists who were among the attackers.
Turkey recalled its ambassador and expelled Israel’s. Diplomatic ties were downgraded. They were restored only after Israel apologized and offered to compensate Turkey for the deaths.
Former Likud ministers spoke out against the Turkish president.
Ex-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “Erdogan aspires for there to be a Muslim Brotherhood hegemony in the Middle East and is working toward an Islamic Europe. This should be surprising only to those who ignore the facts.”
Similarly, Gideon Sa’ar, the former interior minister who recently announced his return to politics, said Erdogan’s comments are not a “slip-up” or a one-time thing.
“We made a mistake by paying damages and apologizing for the Marmara incident.
Whoever has fantasies of cooperation with Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership will have it explode in his face,” Sa’ar said in an interview with 103FM radio.
Similarly, in the opposition, Labor leadership hopeful MK Erel Margalit said he always opposed the deal with Turkey, because “Netanyahu got down on his knees before an Israeli-hater.”
“If we had made an agreement in which Turkey would also take the blame and pay a price, things would have looked different. But Erdogan saw Netanyahu’s weakness and we all lost,” Margalit said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat noted that Turkey ruled Jerusalem for 400 years under the Ottoman Empire.
“It is surprising that Erdogan, who leads a state that occupied Jerusalem for 400 years, wants to preach to us about how to manage our city,” the mayor said.
“Unlike during the Turkish occupation, Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is a flourishing, open and free city that allows freedom of religion and worship for all. In recent years, record numbers of Muslims have visited the Temple Mount and held prayers, exercising their absolute freedom of religion under Israeli sovereignty.”
Barkat continued: “The connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem dates back more than 3,000 years. Jerusalem is, and will remain, our eternal, united capital forever. In every corner of the city, we see Jewish roots – from the time of the First and Second Temples to the Muslim period and the Ottoman conquest.”
As the capital approaches the 50th anniversary of its reunification in the Six Day War, Barkat invited Erdogan to visit “and be amazed by the reality on the ground – a reality that has changed only for the better since the Turks ruled here.”
Jerusalem Post staff and Maariv contributed to this report.