Israel's plan to annex the West Bank plan is viewed with great concern by Turkey along with the rest of the world. However, unlike other countries, Turkey is more sensitive to this issue. The Muslim majority of the Turkish population has heard and has sympathy for the oppressed Palestinian people in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Turkey has long been following international law with consistent policies, separating Turkey from all the other actors.
Turkey's stance on the annexation of the West Bank, as on Trump’s previous decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, was a decision independent of national interests. Many countries, especially the Muslim Arab located in the region, have not been able to react properly due to both a possible US reaction and potential accusations of anti-Semitism, even though they are against these decisions.
Despite the failed July 15 coup attempt in 2016 and then exposure to economic attacks, Turkey has not refrained from reacting at the highest level to the disproportionate and inhumane treatment that Israel has used against the Palestinians.
Turkey's public support for the Palestinians has continued despite the challenges faced on its southern border and in the eastern Mediterranean. The recent statements made by the current political leadership show that this attitude will continue in the times to come.
In this study, Turkey’s attitude towards annexation plans will be examined under four sub-headings. In this context, reviewing the policies followed in the past and comparing these with expected policies will show the rationalism of Turkey's stance on this issue.
Historical background and sensitivity to sacred places
For over 400 years the Palestinian territories were under Ottoman rule, from 1516 until 1916, so it cannot be denied that Turkey relates to this region because there are historical ties. This period is defined by many historians as the region’s most peaceful. In addition, there are many historical and cultural monuments in this region, and they are one of the reasons for Turkey to deal closely with this region.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is the first qibla of Muslims and the Dome of the Rock is recognized as the place where Islam's Prophet Muhammad's ascension occurred. This makes it a sacred area for Turkey’s main religion.
United Nations resolutions, peace plans and international law context
Turkey fully supports all decisions related to the peace plans of the United Nations concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Only the partition plan of 1947 and Resolution 181, which did not accept the demands of the Palestinians, are not supported. Turkey supported all subsequent decisions and has shown efforts for a just and peaceful solution between the two parties.
In this context, Turkey has supported both the United Nations and other actors’ peace plans and it stood with all rational plans, from the Oslo Accords to the Arab Peace Plan. In addition, Turkey tried to play an individual role in resolving this problem, especially during the close relations it developed with Israel in the 1990s. Turkey, by the way, made efforts towards the settlement of issues between Israel and Syria, one of the problems involving Israel’s neighboring countries; unfortunately, they remain unresolved.
Turkey is supporting a “two states” solution, also adopted by the United Nations, to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The scope of the peace plan underscores the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders. Turkey is working on every platform to express these legitimate Palestinian demands. As a requirement for a two-state solution based on the borders before 1967, it also supports the United Nations resolutions on granting displaced Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland, ending Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands and making Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian state to be established.
The “low seat” crisis, separation after the “one-minute” crisis and the Mavi Marmara incident
The Republic of Turkey has had close relations with Israel since it was founded. For Israel, Turkey was seen as part of a peripheral doctrine, to balance off hostile Arab states in the region. Although there were problems from time to time, this trend in relationships continued until the early 2000s.
After the early 2000s, Turkey's involvement in the Middle East changed fundamentally and it wanted a more active role in solving regional issues. This new engagement went beyond the moderate-Islam model attributed to Turkey. As a result of this active policy, establishing close relations with Hamas after it won the 2006 elections in Gaza led to a deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel.
When Turkey criticized Israel following its attacks on Gaza, first the “low-seat crisis and afterwards the “one-minute crisis” were the harbingers of the break in the relationship. In 2010, Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara ferry in international waters and killed 9 Turks. This last incident caused a 6-year break in relations between the two countries.
Reactions to the so-called Deal of the Century Plan
Despite a long period of frozen relations, normalization agreements were signed on June 27, 2016 between the countries but lack of trust between Turkey and Israel has continued. Just 2 years after this deal and with the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on 14 May 2018, despite all UN resolutions, relations halted again. This was after Israeli soldiers killed 60 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more who had been peacefully protesting at the Gaza border.
Turkey is opposed to this new plan because it ignores the rights of the Palestinians and it annuls all earlier achievements. The ultimate version of the plan was announced on January 28, 2020 by US President Trump after developing it since the beginning of his tenure. Turkey has strongly opposed the so-called “Deal of the Century” plan and the annexation of the West Bank, which was put forward at the time of Trump's Jerusalem decision.
It is no secret that Turkey, with its cultural and historical ties, has supported Palestine and the Palestinians, leveraging the requirements of international law mentioned above in attempting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This support is perfectly legitimate and moral but Israel is trying to influence the US administration to subjugate Turkey, playing the US card to make it accept the so-called “Deal of the Century”.
Whatever Israel tries to do, Turkey opposes the plan to annex the West Bank, which Israel will probably try to implement by law and will bring to its agenda on July 1. Turkey sees it as Israel's attempt to illegally establish sovereignty for this region, which is designated as Palestinian land within the scope of a two-state solution plan. Turkey is trying to prevent annexation with all of its tools.
In this context, for Turkey and, of course, for all stakeholders, the ultimate goal would be to force Israel to renounce its unilateral steps and to accept the two-state solution. This policy has been continued independently as within the national interests of Turkey. Although Israel has made illegitimate attempts to block these efforts, all these struggles will continue until they reach a final solution, an independent and free Palestine.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of ISPI