Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque are among the most important issues in the overall Palestinian cause. They are also among the main factors that greatly interest Turkey alongside the siege on Gaza. The Holy Land holds special historical weight for Turkey due to its historical significance in the last Ottoman caliphate before the British overthrow of Ottoman forces and the subsequent Zionist occupation.
In addition, Jerusalem (and Al-Aqsa Mosque) is a gateway for Turkish involvement in the Palestinian cause, not only due to the regional proximity and weight that Turkey holds, but also due to the role that Turkey played in re-building Al-Aqsa Mosque after the fire of 1969.
In the current battle for Al-Aqsa, which began when Israeli forces closed the doors of mosque, preventing Friday prayers from taking place there for the first time since 1969, Turkey held back its statement for several days. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s delayed first remarks expressed Turkey’s rejection of Israel’s actions but they received very little reaction or concern. Soon after, official Turkish statements expressed further discontent and popular dissatisfaction.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement as head of the Islamic Cooperation Council – in charge of restoring artefacts in Jerusalem – that fully rejected “all of the measures taken by Israel” in Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem at large, both of which he described as “occupied”. The Turkish president urged the Israeli government to restore the status quo that was prevalent prior to the current crisis in Jerusalem. Erdogan’s statements also rejected the “presence of violence from any and all sides”.
In addition to the Turkish government and ruling AKP party’s expected statements, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also issued a statement rejecting Israel’s practices that have affected and prevented freedom of worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque. CHP officials sent a delegation to the Palestinian embassy for talks. The head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, accused Tel Aviv of being a “source of terrorism” in a recent loud-pitched fiery speech.
As for the popular level and civil society organisations, Turkey was among the countries with the highest levels of national protest in large cities, as was the case in many other global cities. Nearly all of the sermons given at Friday prayer in Turkey were about the Al-Aqsa crisis.
It appears, then, that the Turkish stance on the crisis in Jerusalem is to show solidarity on all levels and in all strata on a daily basis. Erdogan’s speech on Tuesday to the AKP’s parliamentary bloc expressed that solidarity with Al-Aqsa is a “question of fate not possibility”. However, it is difficult to say whether or not the Turkish position will exceed anything more than talk, especially since we are discussing the role of Turkey, the state whose regional roles are numerous and continue to grow. Yet, what is expected of Turkey as a regional actor and as a main player in the Islamic council is to break the ceiling of these expectations and do what is expected of it.
On the one hand, we are talking about an unprecedented crisis in which the Israeli occupation forces are attempting to change the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque that has been prevalent for the last ten years and impose a new reality that would give Israel full control over Al-Aqsa. Al- Aqsa Mosque is one out of three mosques that hold significance in Islam and, moreover, it is the symbol of the Palestinian cause. In addition, Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem are both classified as occupied territories under international law (giving full rights to the Palestinians). Not to mention, UNESCO’s recent resolution which classified both Jerusalem and the Old City of Hebron as Palestinian cultural heritage sites that are subject to violence and terrorism due to the attacks led by heavily armed soldiers whose aim is to desecrate them.
There are three additional contexts that Turkey can utilise in its defence of Al-Aqsa:
First: Employing the Islamic Cooperation Council’s influence by declaring a state of emergency and calling for a subsequent meeting. Such a step would move us away from empty statements and force countries to face their responsibilities, including Saudi Arabia which holds the symbolic role of Arab leadership within the council. There are also countries like Jordan and Egypt that unfortunately are home to two Israeli embassies within the region and of course the role of Morocco, the country responsible for the representing Jerusalem’s committee in the council.
Second: Activating the committee known as “Parliamentarians for Jerusalem” that was recently launched in Istanbul under official Turkish auspice. It encourages Islamic and Arab parliaments to take clear and decisive steps with regards the question of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Third: Exercising its influence with the question of Israeli-Turkish relations. Turkey has mentioned several times that the normalisation of relations with Israel will not come at the expense of its position on the Palestinian cause.
Turkey has the ability to place diplomatic pressure on Israel by threatening to withdraw its support for the issue of Mediterranean gas as Israel requires its support in order to export to Europe.
We are not exaggerating when we describe the events taking place at Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is a true battle. For that reason, it is unacceptable for Jerusalemites to leave the gateways of Jerusalem broken-willed. It is also unacceptable for the occupying forces to emerge from this battle with any gains, no matter how small, with regards to Al-Aqsa and who holds control over its sovereignty.
These are catastrophic developments that we cannot allow to take place because they have direct implications on the future of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause, as well as the region as a whole. Turkey is at the forefront of the countries that can play a positive and influential role in this crisis. A progressive Turkish position will undoubtedly increase Ankara’s moral and political fortunes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.