Turkey has accused the Israeli government of exploiting the ongoing Syrian civil war to advance its settlement enterprise, a move likely to deepen the diplomatic rift between the two nations.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Monday released a statement “strongly condemn[ing]” Israel for its plans to build 130 new housing units in East Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood, which is located beyond the Green Line.
“In a period when the attention of the international community has focused on the developments in Syria, by exploiting this situation, Israel’s persistent maintenance of settlement activities in contradiction of international law and despite all calls from the international community is a grave mistake that continues to be the biggest obstacle in the revitalization of the peace process and seriously endangers the vision of a two-state solution,” the statement read.
Since March 2011, a bloody civil war between the troops of Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebel forces has claimed more than 20,000 lives.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry reacted calmly to Ankara’s statement. Connecting one of countless dramatic events around the world with what’s happening in East Jerusalem was “devoid of any real substance,” ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson told The Times of Israel. “The truth is that there are no new settlements, there are no settlement expansions. Yes, there is building within some of the existing settlements, but that’s not a secret. We’ve never hidden this. The claim that we’re exploiting some news event to do something we’ve been doing openly for 40 years is not something we’re going to get excited about.”
Ankara also called on other nations to condemn Israel over the Har Homa building plans. Jerusalem must “give up all of its activities destroying the basis for peace,” the Turkish statement demanded. “In this context, we also invite the international community to display a due reaction to such activities by Israel.”
Last Wednesday European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton slammed Israel for planning to expand the Har Homa neighborhood, located in southern Jerusalem, across the Green Line. Ashton said she was “seriously concerned” about the decision to publish a tender for 130 additional housing units. “Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”
Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have deteriorated since May 2010, when Israeli naval commandos intercepted a flotilla launched from Turkey seeking to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza. After the Israeli commandos were attacked trying to board one of the vessels, they killed nine Turkish activists.
Turkey has since blocked Israeli participation in several international fora, such as the US’s Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Chicago 2012 NATO Summit and the World Economic Forum in Istanbul in June.
Speaking at opening session of that conference, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Israel of “killing innocent people, children, babies, women and the elderly in masses” by bombardments and by keeping people “in the largest open-air prison in the world,” referring to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Erdoğan at the time said his country was willing to normalize relations with Israel under three conditions: Jerusalem must apologize for the 2010 flotilla deaths, pay reparations to the families of the victims, and end the naval blockade on Gaza.