Lapid calls for more aggressive stance on Turkey
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Lapid calls for more aggressive stance on Turkey

Opposition figure urges recognition of Kurdish state and Armenian genocide, says Jerusalem and Ankara won't restore past friendly ties

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Leader of Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2017. (Flash90)
Leader of Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2017. (Flash90)

Israel should adopt a dramatically more aggressive policy toward Turkey, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid said on Thursday in response to ongoing criticism from Ankara of the government’s recent actions on the Temple Mount.

While stopping short of calling for diplomatic ties to be cut, the opposition lawmaker said Jerusalem should recognize an independent Kurdistan and acknowledge the Armenian genocide, which Ottoman Turks committed a century ago.

“It’s time, generally speaking, to stop groveling before the Turks, who keep kicking us harder and harder,” Lapid told reporters during a briefing in Tel Aviv. “We will do the things we avoided doing as long as we had good relations with Turkey, because we don’t have any [now] and won’t have any [in the future],” he added.

Lapid also said Israel should forget about its “misguided dream” of building a pipeline to export natural gas to Turkey. “Israel cannot allow itself to be dependent on a customer who has become either an enemy state or a semi-enemy state,” he said.

It was not in Israel’s interest at this point to cut ties to Turkey or recall the Israeli ambassador from Ankara, he said. “But the Turks have to know that they cannot kick us and have us asking for more.”

Many countries — including the United States — never formally recognized the Armenian genocide. In most cases, countries don’t want to refer to the events between 1915 and 1923, during which Ottoman forces massacred Armenian citizens in a systematically planned act of ethnic cleansing, as genocide out of concern for their ties to Turkey, which is a NATO member and an important Muslim ally of many Western countries.

Ankara resolutely denies that genocide took place on its soil and aggressively objects to anyone who adopts such a terminology.

Lapid’s comments come amid increasing bilateral tensions over Turkey’s comments on Israel’s imposition of new security measures in the wake of a terror attack on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

On Wednesday, Turkey slammed Israel for criticizing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s harsh denunciation of the Jewish state’s actions in Jerusalem, drawing a fresh Israeli retort.

The spat began Tuesday when Erdogan called on Muslims to come to Israel to “protect” the Al-Aqsa Mosque after Israel installed metal detectors there in the wake of the July 14 attack, which saw three Arab Israelis kill two Israeli police officers using guns that had been smuggled into the site.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gesturing as he delivers a speech in Ankara, July 01, 2017. (AFP/ADEM ALTAN)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gesturing as he delivers a speech in Ankara, July 01, 2017. (AFP/ADEM ALTAN)

“If today Israeli soldiers are heedlessly able to soil the compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque with their boots citing trivial incidents as a pretext, and if Muslims’ blood is being easily shed there, then the reason for it is our failure to defend al-Quds [Jerusalem] strongly enough,” he told members of his AK Party in a meeting in the parliament in Ankara.

“Since Mecca is one half of our heart and Medina the other half, with al-Quds draping over them like a thin gauze, we should defend al-Quds together. Let’s defend it as if we are defending Mecca and Medina,” he urged.

In his speech, Erdogan stressed that the Ottoman Empire had ruled over the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, for four centuries until 1917. “Our ancestors had acted with such great delicacy and sensitivity that it is impossible not to remember them with gratitude and longing given today’s cruelty.”

Israel responded angrily.

“It would be interesting to see what Erdogan would say to the residents of Northern Cyprus or to the Kurds,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. “Erdogan is the last person who can lecture Israel.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry published its own statement Tuesday, denouncing the Turkish president’s remarks as “absurd, unfounded and distorted.”

“He would be better off dealing with the difficult problems facing his own country,” the statement read. “The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed. Jerusalem was, is, and will always be the capital of the Jewish people. In stark contrast to the past, the government in Jerusalem is committed to security, liberty, freedom of worship and respect for the rights of all minorities. Those who live in glass palaces should be wary of casting stones.”

On Wednesday, Ankara shot back, condemning the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s “presumptuous statement.”

The Al-Aqsa Mosque “ranks prominently among the highest priorities of the Islamic World,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. “As the Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza completed its 50th year, it is clear that the efforts to disregard the fact that East Jerusalem is under occupation will not contribute to the attainment of peace and stability in the region as well as the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Border Police officers stop a Palestinian woman for a security check as Palestinians gather for prayer at the Lions Gate, following an appeal from clerics for Muslims to pray in the streets instead of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Border Police officers stop a Palestinian woman for a security check as Palestinians gather for prayer at the Lions Gate, following an appeal from clerics for Muslims to pray in the streets instead of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel must “urgently make common sense prevail, go back to the status quo at Al-Haram Al-Sharif [the Temple Mount] and lift all the restrictions on the freedom of worship,” the statement continued.

During a briefing Thursday to Israeli diplomatic correspondents, held at the headquarters of his centrist party, Lapid harshly attacked Netanyahu over his handling of the tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The former finance minister, who has declared his intention to run for prime minister in the next elections — asserted that Israel was sovereign in Jerusalem and that it could legitimately erect metal detectors if it thought this would guarantee the security of its citizens.

However, he bitterly attacked the manner in which the government made decisions in the aftermath of the July 14 terror attack, during which two Israeli policemen were shot by men who had smuggled firearms into the flashpoint holy site.

“It was done in a negligent way,” Lapid charged. “Yes, we’re the sovereign at The Temple Mount. But we need to be wise.”

Israeli border policemen install metal detectors outside the Lion's Gate, a main entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017, after security forces reopened the ultra-sensitive site, whose closure after a deadly attack earlier in the week sparked anger. (AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli border policemen install metal detectors outside the Lion’s Gate, a main entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on July 16, 2017, after security forces reopened the ultra-sensitive site, whose closure after a deadly attack earlier in the week sparked anger. (AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)

Lapid specifically criticized Netanyahu’s decision to hastily order the installation of metal detectors on the holy site on the evening of July 15, as he embarked on a week-long trip to France and Hungary.

“He made that decision after a phone call with some security officials just so he can say he did something before he boarded the plane,” Lapid charged. “That wasn’t good for the process.”

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