Voices on Jerusalem Part Two: The Arab and Turkish Media

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

December 19, 2017

Almost two weeks since U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and signaled his intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in the near future, the debate on Trump’s decision continues to rage in the region. It appears that — for the time being — most in the Arab world have opted to appeal to international law rather than bellicose rhetoric. That approach isn’t sitting well with the Palestinians, but judging by the limited protests across the Arab world, it is not clear what alternatives they have but to continue their reliance on their Arab neighbors. (To read part one, on the reaction in the Israeli media, click here.)

The Palestinian position on Jerusalem has remained unchanged, but officials are adopting a legalistic approach to Mr. Trump’s declaration, rather than calling for violence: “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, released a statement on Sunday saying that Palestinians ‘will not accept any changes to the 1967 border of East Jerusalem’, as tensions surrounding the Israel-occupied Palestinian territory continue to rise in the aftermath of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel…. Continuing with this American policy, whether it has to do with recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy to the city or taking a unilateral decision on final status issues, [would be] in violation of international law and consolidate the occupation. This is not acceptable to us and we denounce it’ Abu Rudeinah concluded.”

Referring to the U.S. vice-president’s delayed travel plans in the region, The National’s editorial staff also takes a less confrontational approach, while stressing their disagreement with the decision: “Over the course of the ten days since the decision was made, senior figures in the region have stated in clear and precise terms why the Jerusalem decision was wrong and what needs to be done to rectify the U.S. administration’s mistake…. The religious leaders Mr. Pence, a man of faith himself, sought to court have rejected any interactions with the vice president. In doing so, they have sent a strong message to the U.S. administration: that the negative reaction to Mr. Trump’s decision will not easily subside and that the objections to his declaration are the same in the corridors of power as they are on the street. The onus is now on the White House to correct its gross error.”

Despite the measured tone of many editorials and op-eds, Jordan Times’s Walid Sadi suggests that more can be done to lower the tensions in order to focus on needed long-term solutions and proposals: “The Arab reaction is a bit overdone as it tends to lend credence to Trump’s bizarre decisions and accord them more importance than they deserve.  So, why all the fuss and fury over decisions that are patently devoid of any legitimacy and import?… As important as Jerusalem is, the recognition of Israel in the first place is even worse from Arab, Muslim and international perspectives. The Arab world needs to be more precise, focused and coherent about what it wants or objects to…. The odds are heavily against Trump winning another term at the White House. It is going to take nearly that long to construct the new U.S. embassy. By then, the next president will surely reverse the policy of Trump on Jerusalem and restore status quo till the parties agree on a package deal that includes the status of the entire Jerusalem or half of it!”

Meanwhile, in an op-ed for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, Nuray Mert warns against the alleged anti-Semitic attacks coming from some corners of Turkish society, which in her view could undermine Turkey’s leadership in the region: “[R]egardless the legitimacy of the reaction against Trump’s decision, it sounds like Turkey is rather uninformed about the details of the Palestinian issue – and indeed about Middle Eastern politics in general. It also seems that most political parties and circles are more concerned about domestic politics and manipulating the Palestinian issue for their own purposes….  Unfortunately, the recent controversy over Jerusalem paved the way for many vocal expressions of anti-Semitism in Turkey…. While it is true that we have little anti-Semitic historical heritage, that certainly doesn’t make us immune to modern anti-Semitism, part and parcel of discontent with the values of modernity and democracy.”
The White House declaration on Jerusalem has been a cause for reflection for many in the region, including Arab Times’s Ahmed Al-Jarallah, who is critical of how Arabs have approached negotiations on Palestine: “We need to acknowledge the Arabs’ miscalculations of events since 1947 when the United Nations resolution was issued. They rejected the resolution and refused to receive the UN delegation to look into the matter. Instead, the Arabs drifted behind revolutionary slogans; whereas Israel was on the issue of being recognized by majority of countries in the world. In return, Palestinian territories were put under Arab protectorate. Since that time, the issue entered the corridors of Arab interests and ceased to be considered a priority…. the decision to snub the U.S. Vice-President is an extra service given to Israel on a silver platter for it to carry on with its schemes, while the Arabs will continue to be entertained by their inflammatory rhetoric.”

Those comments mirror the attitude of many Arab leaders in the region, who according to Al Ahram’s Dina Ezzat “believe a negotiated Palestinian-Israeli settlement is the only way around U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel…. Statements issued by Arab presidential press offices and foreign ministries were mostly limited to stressing that the Trump announcement was incompatible with UN resolutions and would not help the peace process they had hoped Washington would pursue. According to Arab and other Middle Eastern diplomats, a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations focused on final status issues is what most Arab capitals, especially those with direct involvement in and influence over the Palestinian file, want to see happening.”

Given those subdued tones, it is not surprising that many Palestinians have accused their Arab neighbors of only paying lip-service to their aspirations for statehood. That such comments are beginning to strike a nerve are evident in this Saudi Gazette op-ed authored by Jameel Altheyabi, who points that “the position of Saudi Arabia on the Palestine issue has not witnessed any change ever since the period of the Kingdom’s founder King Abdul Aziz. The kings who succeeded him also held fast to this position, considering Palestine to be the core issue of Arabs…. However, at the same time, we see some Palestinians taking to the streets, not in protest against the United States and its president but against Saudi Arabia! It is unfortunate that some Palestinians, who migrated to Europe, find pleasure in attacking Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and these include even members of the media.”


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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