Turkey reiterated its support to Palestine amid controversial steps taken by Israel, which, according to Ankara, pose existential threats for the Palestinian people. "Expansion of illegal settlements continues throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around Al-Quds, as well as in the West Bank. This is a deliberate attempt to undermine the two-state vision," Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday during his address at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) executive committee meeting organized in Saudi Arabia's Jeddah province. Stressing that Palestine is facing complex challenges, Çavuşoğlu said that the historical and legal status of Jerusalem, known as Al-Quds in the Islamic world, is also increasingly under threat.
"Israel is emboldened by creating facts on the ground, attempting to re-write history, and taking steps to destroy Islamic heritage, nature and the demographics of the city," the foreign minister said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his ambition before April's election to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected. The statement received wide-ranging condemnation. Çavuşoğlu also criticized Israel's excavation work around Jerusalem, which is seen by many Muslim countries as moves by Tel Aviv to further cement control over areas it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
"Through settlement expansion and excavation works, the Israeli government tries to destroy the nature of the old city of Al-Quds. They also want to eradicate its Islamic character and heritage, and most importantly, change the demographics of the city to ensure a Jewish majority," he said. The foreign minister added that ongoing destructive excavation tunnel works to open the so-called "pilgrimage road" is the latest example of such efforts.
Israel inaugurated a Jewish heritage site in East Jerusalem late June, which saw the participation of two of President Donald Trump's top Middle East advisers - peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman - who signaled support for Israel's hold over parts of the city that Palestinians want for a future state. The "Pilgrims' Road" site is part of the City of David, an open-air Jewish archaeological attraction open to the public and built within the East Jerusalem district of Silwan through purchases of Palestinian-owned property that have at times been contested in court.
The final statement of the OIC meeting condemned "in the strongest terms" of Israel in an escalation of its "colonialist procedures" in Jerusalem and its attempt to alter the city's legal status. "The OIC denounces the ethnic cleansing policy pursued by Israel, the occupying power, through the policies of forced displacement and the continued demolition of the homes of Palestinians, more specifically in the City of Al-Quds, latest of which was the illegal decision issued by the occupant's courts to tear down hundreds of houses in the Wadi Al Hums, a district of Sur Al Baher township, under untenable racist excuses and pretexts," the statement said.
Palestinians' legitimate rights must be recognized
Criticizing the U.S. back-channel peace plan known as the "Deal of the Century," Çavuşoğlu said sustainable peace cannot be achieved by disregarding the Palestinians' dignity and ignoring "the just and legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian People." "Economic projects and plans cannot replace the need for dignity, justice and freedom. And no project can succeed without a just peace," he said.
The mediation plan, which is pioneered by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, drew strong criticism from Palestinians and many countries around the world. Palestinian officials previously have ruled out a role for the U.S. in peace talks after the Trump administration unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, upending long-established understandings that underpin negotiations to end the conflict and establish a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel.
Çavuşoğlu emphasized that OIC members should work harder to ensure broader recognition of the State of Palestine and support Palestinians, "who resist the occupation in order to protect the Islamic identity of Al Quds."
"When we act together, we make a difference and the voice of the Palestinians are better heard. Our joint efforts, which resonated at the U.N. General Assembly during our chairmanship are a testament to this," he said.
Following Trump's decision in December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the issue was carried to the U.N. General Assembly after a draft resolution on the matter was vetoed 14-1 by the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council.
The U.N. General Assembly passed the draft resolution with 128 countries in favor, nine against and 35 abstentions on Dec. 21, 2017, asking the U.S. to withdraw its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.