Israel Fires Back at Turkey: Jerusalem Has Been the Jewish Capital for 3,000 Years

Amid diplomatic backlash over possible change in U.S. status to Jerusalem, top Israeli official says Jerusalem has been Israel's capital for 70 years, whether Erdogan recognizes it or not

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a signing ceremony of an agreement between the US and Israel for energy aid given by both countries to Africa, on December 4, 2017 in Jerusalem. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a signing ceremony of an agreement between the US and Israel for energy aid given by both countries to A MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

A senior Israeli official responded to Turkey's threat to cut ties with Israel if the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as its capital, saying that "Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3,000 years and the capital of Israel for 70 years, whether [Turkish President] Erdogan recognizes it as such or not."

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Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the possibility that U.S. President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital "is a red line for Muslims." He warned that if such a decision is made it "will result in Turkey's cutting diplomatic ties with Israel."

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, meanwhile, said that "at the end of the day it is better to have a united Jerusalem than Erdogan's sympathy."

Erdogan's comments echo a growing sentiment in the Arab world and international community who are warning the U.S. against the potential fallout from the move.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, during a news conference at the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. Erdogan said he's looking forward to a "decisive meeting" with his U.S. counterpart Trump, whose decision to arm Kurdish groups against Islamic State in Syria has stoked tensions between the two NATO members. Photographer: Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg
Michael Reynolds/Bloomberg

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The Turkish premier's announcement follows comments by the diplomatic adviser of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who said that the Palestinian leadership would "stop contacts" with the U.S. if Trump follows through with the move.

U.S. officials have said a possible recognition might come this week, prompting Arab and Muslim backlash.

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Abbas' aide Majdi Khaldi said on Tuesday the U.S. would lose credibility as a Mideast mediator if Trump goes ahead with the move.

Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, had even harsher words

"So Mr. Trump came up with the slogan of the 'deal of the century,' or 'the mother of all transactions', as Saddam Hussein would say.  But the mother of all the deals dies here on the rocks in Jerusalem if he says tomorrow that he recognizes a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Shaath told reporters. "It removes any chance he will play a role in an agreement. There is no deal that begins with the destruction of the two-state solution."

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According to the Palestinians, they will turn to other countries in the world to serve as mediators in the negotiations should Trump proceed with such a decision on Jeruasalem, like China, Russia or European countries.

"Everyone conveyed a message that it would destroy any chance for peace. We do not want to reach violence, but we cannot prevent violence. ISIS is recruiting people to defend Jerusalem," said Shaath.

Saudi Arabia also spoke out against the move, saying it hopes the U.S. will not recognize Jerusalem and warned such a decision would have serious implications, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday. 

"The recognition will have very serious implications and will be provocative to all Muslims' feelings," SPA said quoting an unnamed official source at the Saudi Foreign Ministry. 

"The United States administration should take into account the negative implications of such a move and the Kingdom's hope not to take such a decision as this will affect the U.S. ability to continue its attempt of reaching a just solution for the Palestinian cause," the statement added. 

On Monday, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador in Washington Prince Khalid bin Salman said any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem before a final settlement is reached in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would hurt the peace process and heighten regional tensions. 

"The kingdom's policy - has been - and remains in support of the Palestinian people, and this has been communicated to the U.S. administration," Prince Khalid said in a statement. 

Twenty-five former Israeli ambassadors, academics and peace activists on Monday expressed their opposition to the move in a letter to Trump's Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt.

The letter was written on behalf of The Policy Working Group, an organization of Israeli activists with diplomatic, academic, political and media backgrounds, including former Israeli diplomats such as Ilan Baruch, Alon Liel and Elie Barnavi. The group wrote Greenblatt that "we are deeply concerned by recent reports that President Trump is seriously considering the announcement of his decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel."

"The status of Jerusalem, the city that houses the holy sites of the three monotheistic religions, lies at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and must be determined within the context of resolving that conflict," the letter continued.

East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, is home to major Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites. The Palestinians seek it as a future capital, while Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital.

Arab League representatives were to discuss the Jerusalem controversy on Tuesday. The organization said on Monday that Trump's possible recognition would constitute "naked aggression" against Muslims and Arabs.