U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel on Dec. 6 sparked a fresh strain in an already unstable Middle East with concerns over renewed tension between Palestinians and Israelis.
A quick retaliation to Trump’s move came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Dec. 13 through an emergency summit initiated by term president Turkey. The 57-member organization not only rejected and strongly condemned the U.S.’s decision but also declared East Jerusalem as the occupied capital of the State of Palestine.
It also vowed to continue to challenge Trump’s move through international mechanisms while repeating calls for countries that have not yet recognized the State of Palestine to do so immediately. A formal diplomatic address is expected at the U.N. General Assembly, which accepted Palestine as a non-member observer through a vote in 2012 despite U.S. opposition.
The OIC delivered a firm message on Dec. 13 in Istanbul. The EU also disappointed the U.S. and Israel at a summit on Dec. 14. “The EU reiterates its firm commitment to the two-state solution and, in this context, the EU position on Jerusalem remains unchanged,” read the conclusions of the European Council.
The same position was voiced earlier by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Dec. 11 in Brussels. She turned down Netanyahu’s demand, stating that the EU and member countries would not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital before a final peace agreement had been reached.
“There is full EU unity on this, that the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states with Jerusalem as the capital of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. The EU and member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem until the final status of the holy city is resolved, through direct negotiations between the parties,” she also said.
Although a good majority of EU countries have not yet recognized Palestine as a state, Turkey expects the U.S.’s unilateral Jerusalem move, together with Israel’s resistance to a two-state solution, to give rise to a new campaign for its recognition on the European continent.
Jerusalem tensions alone show that Turkey and the EU have common interests on various foreign policy issues.
On Syria, many EU countries stress that Bashar al-Assad has no place in a future Syria and that he must account for the use of chemical weapons against civilians and for killing hundreds of thousands of people since 2011. This is obviously Turkey’s stance when it comes to shaping Syria’s future.
Regarding ongoing tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia-led Gulf countries, many European countries have rejected moves to isolate the tiny oil-rich country and made efforts to resolve the crisis through mediation. The EU and EU member countries rejected Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) attempt to declare independence and have openly opposed the U.S.’s move to annul previous U.S. President Barack Obama’s flagship nuclear agreement with Iran.
Of course, Turkey and EU differ on numerous issues. As a candidate country, Turkey’s alignment to EU’s foreign policy stands at a mere 13 percent, though this figure was once 79 percent in the mid-2000s.
Recent developments in the Middle East could provide an excellent opportunity for Ankara and Brussels to align their positions on key foreign policy issues to the benefit of both sides.
Having already proven itself a major player in the Islamic world after the Jerusalem declaration, a closer alignment with EU would further increase Turkey’s influence and leverage in the Middle East and beyond.