Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to cut ties with Israel if U.S. President Donald Trump recognizes Jerusalem as its capital, portending the backlash the move could cause in Muslim-majority nations.
“Mr. Trump, Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” Erdogan said in a speech at parliament in Ankara on Tuesday. “This could lead us to break off our diplomatic relations with Israel.”
Trump had been expected to signal his intention Monday, when he was due to decide whether to renew his signature on a waiver to keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. But no action was made public, and a White House spokesman said an announcement would be made in coming days. The decision is fraught with religious and political implications with Jerusalem, home to some of the holiest ancient sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, also claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future state.
Relations between Turkey and Israel, whose alliance was once a bulwark of the U.S.’s Middle East security posture, have deteriorated as Erdogan moved to redefine his country as a Muslim power and became a fierce critic of Israeli policies in the region. The two countries broke off ties after 2010, when Israeli soldiers raided a Turkish ship trying to break the embargo on the Gaza Strip. Nine Turks were killed on board and a 10th died later. The countries reestablished formal diplomatic relations last year.
“Israel must advance its goals, including the recognition of a united Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel,” Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. “At the end of the day, it is better to have a united Jerusalem than Erdogan’s sympathy.”
Other signs of displeasure with Trump’s reported intentions came from Saudi Arabia and France.
The Saudis on Tuesday called the expected move “unjustified” U.S. bias that disrupts efforts to revive peace talks, and cautioned it could have “grave consequences.” French President Emmanuel Macron told Trump on Monday that the prospect of a unilateral declaration concerned him, and said the city’s status must be resolved through peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump phoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, a day before the expected announcement. Calls also were scheduled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Trump told Abbas of his intention to move the embassy, and Abbas said he would seek to mobilize world leaders against it, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported, citing presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, appearing Tuesday at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said the status of the city must be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.
Abbas’s Fatah party has called for demonstrations across the West Bank and Arab world if Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
— With assistance by David Wainer, Michael Arnold, and Fadwa Hodali