A Palestinian woman holds a Turkish flag outside the Turkish Consulate in East Jerusalem, June 1, 2010. (photo by REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Jordan and Turkey are vying for power in Jerusalem, and Turkey appears to be gaining the upper hand at this point.
In a clear sign of the decline of the Jordanian role in Jerusalem, Jordan recently called off its agreement with Israel to install surveillance cameras in Al-Aqsa Mosque’s courtyards. The cameras were supposed to help control the security situation on the Temple Mount, but the Palestinian Authority wasn’t consulted — and wasn’t happy about it.
At the same time, Turkey’s activity in Jerusalem seems to be gaining momentum. On April 25, Istanbul hosted the “Thank you Turkey” festival organized by Arab nongovernmental organizations in appreciation of Turkey’s role in the protection of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. The festival was attended by Khaled Meshaal, head of the Hamas political bureau, and Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the mufti of Jerusalem and preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The festival also aimed to thank Turkey for increasing financial and in-kind aid to residents of Jerusalem and implementing a series of charity and development projects in the city at a cost estimated at tens of millions of dollars.
This may indicate a switch between the roles of Jordan and Turkey in Jerusalem: Turkey seems to be gaining influence, while Jordan seems to be losing its influence.
Sabri told Al-Monitor, “The Turkish aid to the holy city contributed to its reconstruction in general and alleviated the suffering of Jerusalemites by funding social and humanitarian projects. We, the Jerusalemites, thank Turkey’s president, government and people for their aid to the city.”
Sabri urged Turkish citizens and institutions to visit Jerusalem, in light of declining Arab support. He added, ”Arab countries are preoccupied with their internal problems and bloody conflicts and have neglected this city, not to mention the competition over influence between Turkey and Arab countries.”
Perhaps a comparison and look back at how Jerusalemites welcomed visiting Jordanian and Turkish officials indicates the changing influence and implicitly reflects the great appreciation the Jerusalemites have for Turkey. Jerusalemites welcomed Mohammed Gormaz, the Turkish minister of religious affairs, with great warmth when he visited May 15, 2015, and he was asked to deliver the Friday sermon at the mosque.
Only a week later, a visit by Ahmed Halil, Jordan’s chief of judges, must have embarrassed him. He was prevented from delivering the Friday sermon or praying at the mosque. There was an attempted attack on the Jordanian delegation, which included Minister of Religious Endowments Hayel Daoud, forcing the group to flee from an Al-Aqsa courtyard.
Meanwhile, Turkey has done more to aid Jerusalem. Some Turkish institutions are implementing charitable projects such as Tika Agency, the Meshale International Student Association and Kanadil Organization.
Bulent Korkmaz, Tika program coordinator in Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor, “Turkey’s projects in Jerusalem are humanitarian and relief projects. These include completing the student housing project at Al-Quds University at a cost of $10 million, equipping the Sharia Court archives, restoring the elderly care home, providing thousands of suhur [breakfast] and iftar [dinner] meals in the holy month of Ramadan, supplying electronic equipment to Jerusalem’s schools, restoring houses and shops and increasing the number of classes of some schools.”
Two reasons may have led to Turkey’s growing influence in Jerusalem. First, the Turks have strong feelings of solidarity toward their Muslim brothers — Sunnis in particular — who urge them to support Al-Aqsa Mosque. Second, Turkish leaders aspire to play a regional role similar to that of the Ottoman Empire in the Arab and Muslim world. This probably explains Turkey’s increased support in the Palestinian territories.
“The competition between the Turks and the Jordanians in Jerusalem is very obvious, especially with regard to aids and promotion of religious tourism,” Khalil Tufakji told Al-Monitor. Tufakji is a Palestinian expert on Jewish settlements and head of the Maps and Survey Department at Jerusalem’s Orient House, the PLO headquarters in Jerusalem.
He noted that the countries “are not publicly declaring their competition, yet Turkey’s financial aid and its support for religious tourism in Jerusalem indicates an increased Turkish influence in Jerusalem and, in turn, a remarkable decline of Jordan’s influence.”
“The competition between Jordan and Turkey has an economic dimension,” he added. “Amman wants Turkish tourists, initially heading to Jerusalem, to travel by road and pass through Jordan, which will generate revenues for its treasury, instead of taking a direct flight from Ankara Airport to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, without passing through Jordan.”
Turkish delegations continue to visit Jerusalem; most recently, Adnan al-Husseini, Palestinian minister of Jerusalem affairs, received a delegation from the Turkish Green Crescent Society visiting Jerusalem on April 21 to discuss Jerusalem issues.
Turkey has been working on promoting its ties with Jerusalem for some time. Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) issued a decision in April 2015 to include Al-Aqsa Mosque into the Umrah religious pilgrimage. Turkish citizens will stay three days in Jerusalem, four days in Medina and seven days in Mecca.
Former Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Khaled Abu Arafa told Al-Monitor, “Jordan and Turkey’s competition in Jerusalem is no secret, yet they made sure to keep it muffled so as not to sour their relations. It is clear that Ankara has an agenda … aimed at increasing its influence in Jerusalem, to encourage its citizens to intensify their visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque and toprovide scholarships to large numbers of Jerusalemites to complete their studies in Turkey.”
He added, “Turkey has been sending its officials to Jerusalem without coordination with Amman, angering Jordan, which considers itself the guardian of Jerusalem, though there is no agreement binding Turkey to inform Jordan in advance of its intent to make an official visit to Jerusalem. It seems that Israel is concerned about the increasing influence of Turkey in Jerusalem, given that Turkey is a strong state, while Jordan does not seem to have the same strength.”
Turkey’s strength is manifested by its currently thriving economy, whereas Jordan faces a difficult economic situation. A study published in April by Israeli researcher Pinhas Inbari reveals that Israel condones Turkey’s increased influence in the holy city, even though Israel is concerned about the proliferation of Turkish flags and photos of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the streets of Jerusalem.
The Jordanian-Turkish competition for influence in Jerusalem has been reflected for years in political speeches. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister until recently, stated on several occasions that Turkey considers Jerusalem one of its “domestic affairs.” On Nov. 7, 2014, he said, “Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is our cause.”
In September 2015, Erdogan warned that Turkey will not tolerate Israel’s continued aggression against Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the hill where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, and said Israel is playing with fire. On the other hand, Jordanian King Abdullah II said in February that the protection of the mosque falls within the royal family’s guardianship over Jerusalem.
Hanna Issa, secretary-general of the Islamic-Christian Commission for Support of Jerusalem and Holy Sites, told Al-Monitor, “Jordan is the guardian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, while Turkey is providing Jerusalemites with financial aid and relief services, given its status as a rich country with a powerful economy, while Jordan’s economy is stumbling.” (Jordan is justbeginning to recover from a $3 billion budget deficit and is still burdened by the cost of hosting 1 million Syrian refugees and severely strained by regional instability.)
However, Issa added, “Coordination between the two countries is ongoing to serve Jerusalem and Jerusalemites.”
The PA’s relationship with Jordan was marred by Jordan’s agreement in October with Israel to install the surveillance cameras at the mosque without consulting the PA. PA President Mahmoud Abbas also fears Jordan’s support of his archenemy, Mohammed Dahlan, who visited Amman in April. This situation may work in Turkey’s favor, allowing it to extend its influence in Jerusalem at Jordan’s expense.
The spread of Turkish flags, Turkish shawarma restaurants and photos of Erdogan on the walls of Jerusalem indicate that the Turks are serious about increasing their influence in the city.