Erdogan, Netanyahu trade insults over Jerusalem
ISTANBUL – Relations between Israel and Turkey took a bitter turn Sunday as their leaders traded accusations of involvement in terrorism, days after the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would fight against the controversial declaration, describing Israel as a “terrorist state” that kills children, in a speech in Istanbul.
Hours later Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back, calling his counterpart a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers and supports terrorists, during an official visit to Paris.
The two countries had normalised relations in recent years, but Sunday’s flare-up came after Turkey was angered by US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Trump’s move has sparked protests in Muslim and Arab countries for four days. “Palestine is an innocent victim… As for Israel, it is a terrorist state, yes, terrorist!” Erdogan said in a speech in the central Turkish city of Sivas. “We will not abandon Jerusalem to the mercy of a state that kills children.”
Erdogan earlier described the status of Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Palestinians see as the capital of their future state, as a “red line” for Muslims.
Netanyahu was quick to counter the assault when he spoke later during a press conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. “I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people,” he said. “That is not the man who is going to lecture us.”
Erdogan has used his position as the current chairman of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to call a summit of the pan-Islamic group on Wednesday. “We will show that applying the measure will not be as easy as that,” he added on Sunday, referring to the IS recognition of Jerusalem.
He said it was “absurd” to deny the Jews’ “ancient connection” to Jerusalem. During his speech, Erdogan held a picture of what he said was a 14-year-old Palestinian boy from Hebron, in the Occupied West Bank, being dragged away by Israeli soldiers.
Turkey and Israel had improved diplomatic ties in recent years but Erdogan has continued to defend the Palestinian cause and has regularly criticised Israeli policy.
Israeli PM faces pressure
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu began a trip to Europe facing widespread criticism of the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and pressure to engage in the peace process.
In his first meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, he was urged to re-engage with the Palestinians to build goodwill following widespread protests over the capital move.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu after a working lunch, Macron again condemned the unilateral decision on Jerusalem last week by US President Donald Trump as “contrary to international law and dangerous for the peace process.”
“I urged the prime minister to show courage in his dealings with the Palestinians to get us out of the current dead-end,” Macron said after talks in Paris with the Israeli leader.
Echoing a message that European foreign ministers are set to carry during further talks in Brussels on Monday, Macron also urged him to freeze Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories.
Netanyahu has praised Trump’s decision as “historic” and he explained Sunday that Jerusalem “has always been our capital and it has never been the capital of any other people.” Before leaving Israel, he had taken aim at what he called Europe’s “hypocrisy”, for condemning Trump’s statement, but not “the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it.”
Pointedly, Macron began his pre-prepared remarks with a clear condemnation “with the greatest of clarity of all forms of attacks in the last hours and days against Israel.”
Despite the obvious differences between the 39-year-old French leader and the Israeli hardliner, there were also attempts to show they had developed a good early working relationship and held common views.
“Does this mean Emmanuel Macron and me agree on everything? No, not all of it, but we’re working it,” Netanyahu said at one point, joking later: “The lunch in the Elysee is superb, the conversation is superb too.”
Netanyahu was making his second visit to Paris since Macron’s victory in May and the two countries are keen to reset ties after often difficult exchanges under ex-president Francois Hollande.
Netanyahu travels to Brussels on Monday where he is expected to hold informal talks over breakfast with Europe’s foreign ministers who will also pressure him over the moribund peace process.
The EU’s diplomatic chief warned on Thursday that the US decision on Jerusalem “has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we’re already living in.”