Israel hits back at Turkish leader over threat to sever ties
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Israel hits back at Turkish leader over threat to sever ties

Officials dismiss statement by Erdogan saying American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would be a 'red line'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he speaks during the Justice and Development (AK) Party's provincial heads meeting in Ankara, November 17, 2017. (AFP/Adem Altan)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he speaks during the Justice and Development (AK) Party's provincial heads meeting in Ankara, November 17, 2017. (AFP/Adem Altan)

Israeli officials blasted Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday for his threat to sever diplomatic ties should US President Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Diplomatic officials said in a statement that Jerusalem has been the “capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and Israel’s capital for 70 years, regardless of whether Erdogan recognizes this or not.”

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the government has not yet commented formally.

Earlier, the Turkish president had said that his country, which currently holds the chairmanship of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, would immediately call a summit meeting of the pan-Islamic group if Trump went ahead with the move on Wednesday, and would “set the entire Islamic world in motion.”

“Mr. Trump! Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” he said in a raucous televised speech to his ruling party that was greeted with chants and applause.

Turkey, Erdogan said, would “follow this struggle to the very last moment with determination and we could even go right up to cutting our diplomatic relations with Israel.”

Education Minister and head of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 27, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, blasted Erdogan for his comments.

“Unfortunately, Erdogan does not miss an opportunity to attack Israel,” he said in a statement. “Israel must advance its goals, including the recognition of United Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel. There will always be those who criticize, but at the end of the day it is better to have a united Jerusalem than Erdogan’s sympathy.”

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) said that Israel did not take orders from Turkey.

“Israel is a sovereign state and Jerusalem is its capital,” Katz tweeted. “There is no more historically justified and correct step now than recognizing Jerusalem, which has been the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3,000 years, as the capital of Israel. The days of the sultan and the Ottoman Empire have passed.”

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz attends a press conference at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem on March 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) added his voice, saying that Turkey had enough of its own problems to worry about.

“Turkish rule in Israel ended 100 years ago,” he tweeted. “Erdogan, you have enough troubles in Turkey — worry about your own issues and don’t threaten us.”

MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, also said Israel must not cave to Turkey’s threats.

“Turkey’s president, the man who calls our soldiers by disgusting names, threatens once again to cut off relations with us,” Lapid tweeted. “The Israeli government must send a clear message to Erdogan — you do not threaten us. Jerusalem is our capital, and it is time for the world to recognize that fact. The US embassy and also the embassies of the rest of the countries of the world must be in Jerusalem.”

Last year, Turkey and Israel ostensibly ended a longstanding rift greatly exacerbated by Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound ship attempting to beat the blockade of the coastal strip in 2010. That incident left dead 10 Turkish activists who had attacked Israeli soldiers and led to a downgrading of diplomatic ties.

The two sides have since stepped up cooperation, in particular in energy, but Erdogan, who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often bitterly critical of Israeli policy.

Donald Trump placing a note in the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (screen capture: Channel 2)

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel gained control of East Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967 and extended its sovereignty there in 1980, an effective annexation that remains unrecognized by the international community. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

All foreign embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv, with consular representation in Jerusalem.

Trump is expected to make an announcement on Jerusalem in a major policy speech Wednesday.

He was supposed to decide Monday whether to sign a legal waiver delaying by six months plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv, but missed the deadline.

The mercurial president has yet to make his final decision, officials said, but is expected to stop short of moving the embassy to Jerusalem outright, a central campaign pledge that has been postponed once already by the new administration.

Illustrative image of US President Donald Trump signing the Education Federalism Executive Order during a federalism event with governors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, April 26, 2017. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

In 1995, the US Congress passed the so-called Jerusalem Embassy Act recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stating that the US embassy should be moved there.

But an inbuilt waiver, which allows the president to temporarily postpone the move on grounds of “national security,” has been repeatedly invoked by successive US presidents, from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and Barack Obama — meaning the law has never taken effect.

Several peace plans have unraveled over disagreement on whether, and how, to divide sovereignty or oversee sites in the city that are holy for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

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