President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is furious about U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Even when Washington openly said it would continue to arm Syrian Kurdish groups that Turkey considers linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdoğan avoided directly hitting out at Trump. But the U.S. president’s Jerusalem decision seems to have lifted his immunity from being targeted by the Turkish president. Apparently the plight of the Palestinians carries more prominence for him than the Kurdish issue, which the Turkish state considers an existential threat.
On a regional basis, Erdoğan has every reason to be angry at Trump, whose decision will no doubt further fuel the turmoil in Turkey’s neighborhood. But looking from another perspective, Trump has helped Erdoğan out. He relieved him from the embarrassing agenda created by Reza Zarrab, the Iranian-Turkish businessman whose confessions had again put the Turkish government under the spotlight of corruption claims. Thanks to Trump’s Jerusalem move, Erdoğan was able to preach to the West about human rights at a time when Turkey has its worst record in a decade in terms of respecting fundamental rights.
Trump’s decision will lead to a new peak in the decades-old violations of Palestinians’ rights. In Turkey it also hijacked the agenda of world Human Rights Day, marked each year on Dec. 10. While we should have been talking about the alarming rise in violations of fundamental rights in the country, we had to listen to Erdoğan lecturing the West about human rights.
Of course, this is not to say that the West should be immune of criticism on human rights. Indeed, although this concept was introduced by the West, the Transatlantic community have often seriously failed in critical tests – from the war in Bosnia to the recent migration crisis. Still, although one would hardly expect Erdoğan to hold a mirror up to the situation in Turkey, he was (as usual) unbalanced in criticizing the outside world.
While entirely blaming the West for the Israeli seizure of Palestinian territories, he did not note that all this took place under the watch of Arab Muslims. If today Trump thought it was the right time to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, this was largely because of the state in which Arab administrations have locked themselves in. The Arab world cannot take a unified stance without the consent of Saudi Arabia or Egypt. The House of Saud, as well as Egypt’s current military ruler Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, both need U.S. support to maintain power and also to stand against Iran, which they see as gaining predominance with its advances in Iraq and Syria.
Getting a meaningful outcome from the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC) summit, due to be held in Istanbul on Dec. 13, will be very difficult – particularly due to the fact that neither Riyadh nor Cairo currently harbors nice feelings for Ankara.
There is no doubt that Erdoğan will deliver a highly emotional speech at the start of the summit. He will even be critical of the Islamic world over its inactivity up to now. In the aftermath, the press will not be told about the efforts of the Egyptians and the Saudis to soften the meeting’s outcome. And Erdoğan will continue his uneven critisism: Constantly hitting out at the “Christian West” but remaining silent on the “Muslim East.”