What Jerusalem means for the global balances of power

Beril Dedeoğlu

:The members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declared during their summit in Istanbul last week that east Jerusalem is the capital of occupied Palestine and they called the United Nations to take responsibility. The U.N. has a responsibility indeed, because it had adopted many resolutions in the past about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These resolutions clearly state that Israel has to pull back from occupied territories, otherwise it is in blatant violation of international law.

Despite all these resolutions, the U.N. lacks the practical capacity to impose its will. There is no need to remind that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including the United States, have veto power, i.e. they can block any resolution they don’t like. The veto power doesn’t help resolve problems, but it freezes them for the time being and preserves the status quo, even though the status quo is unjust. After all, it is the great powers who dictate the rules of the game.

The status quo the U.N. is trying to preserve is the one that appeared during World War II. In the wake of the war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union became the two superpowers that made the rules, China had been isolated, Japan and Germany subdued, and all other powers forced to pick their side. The end of the Cold War and the speeding up of globalization in the 1990s has changed the balances on the ground, yet the U.N. maintained its initial structure as if nothing had happened. What is interesting is that 25 years after the fall of the bipolar system, the two leading powers, the U.S. and Russia, are trying once again to return to the balance of power that existed in 1945.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is contributing to this process by occupying large parts of Georgia and Ukraine, and by annexing Crimea. U.S. President Donald Trump, for his part, is reinforcing the U.S.’s presence in the Middle East, by deploying troops in Iraq and Syria and by sponsoring a Saudi-Israel-Egypt axis. He is also trying to keep Germany weak and to transform China into a rival. This is the context in which we have to assess his decision on Jerusalem, because this move is also an instrument for him to restore old balances.

Putin and Trump may have decided to turn back the clock to the period right after the Second World War in order to rebuild the bipolar international system, even if Trump’s political future may not be that long to see it happen.

Even so, and if the U.S. and Russia maintain the deal, many players of the international scene will have to make their choices. That’s why Turkey and a number of other countries have been so keen to demonstrate their stance over Jerusalem’s recognition as Israel’s capital, because they know, too, that the time of making choices is approaching. Iran, for example, doesn’t want to be condemned to Russia, or Turkey to the U.S., and that’s why they show a common stance when they can.

Turkey’s is not against pursuing its alliances with the West, but the problem is figuring out where Europe is standing. The U.S. and Europe don’t seem to agree on common strategic goals, and this is impacting Turkey’s relations with Western countries. While the future of U.S.-EU relations is uncertain, and while the EU keeps pushing Turkey away, it is only normal for Turkey to look for different partners to deal with urgent problems.

Maybe European countries have to give their decisions quickly and they have already picked their sides. Because as of today every step taken by the U.S. is pushing Turkey toward Russia. Would Europe want to be surrounded like that by Russia, Turkey and the U.K., one of America’s best allies, after Brexit?

It is probably time for the EU to take a meaningful position over Jerusalem, after all.