How will Baku respond to recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by U.S. President Donald Trump? Will Azerbaijan face a dilemma over confrontation of its allies and partners: Turkey and Israel? Azerbaijani political analysts Zardusht Alizade and Elkhan Shahinoglu comment on these and other questions in an interview with EADaily.
President of Azerbaijan attended the extraordinary meeting of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) where the member-countries recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Would you explain Azerbaijan’s stance on the issue, considering its close ties with Jerusalem?
Elkhan Shahinoglu: Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by Donald Trump has shocked the world community. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to be among those who responded to Trump’s decision sharply. Since Turkey is the OIC chair-country, it called an extraordinary summit that was attended also by the president of Egypt and the Saudi king.
I’d like to note that Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been quite frigid lately. The reason was Erdogan’s support to Qatar in the dispute with Saudi Arabia and his criticism of Al-Sisi over the coup in the country. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have close relations with U.S. despite the support of Palestinians. Therefore, they did not want to join anti-American platform.
Erdogan has criticized Trump so sharply for the first time. The relations of Turkey and U.S. were fragile yet before that. However, Erdogan had not named the U.S. president by present despite the U.S. support to the Kurds and Washington’s refusal to extradite Gulen to Turkey. I think that this will cause more strain in the relations of U.S. and Turkey.
Zardusht Alizade: Israel is rather a pragmatic state and it could not anticipate Azerbaijan to act against the will of all the Islamic states to keep its special ties with Israel. The latter is happy with the current level of cooperation i.e. Azerbaijan buys Israeli weapons, sells oil to it, trades and exchanges information with it, as well as it is one of the Muslim countries to recognize Israel as a state. Israel has no right to expect more from Azerbaijan.
As for Azerbaijan’s stance, it is traditional. Azerbaijan has recognized the right of Palestinians to live in their states from the very beginning. Now, together with other Muslim states, it has recognized the part of Jerusalem that belongs to Palestine as the capital of that country. This is quite a logical, clear and right stance by Azerbaijan.
Do you mean that this stance will not affect the relations of Israel and Azerbaijan?
Elkhan Shahinoglu: The president of Azerbaijan was invited to the summit. In his speech, Ilham Aliyev avoided any tough anti-Israeli statements, unlike Turkey. Israel is one of the key arms suppliers of Azerbaijan, and Baku does not want to lose such a partner. In addition, Azerbaijan’s oil satisfies Israel’s demand for 40%.
Azerbaijan insists that the UN resolutions on Israeli-Palestinian issue shall be implemented, but Baku will not breach relations with Israel.
Zardusht Alizade: Saudi Arabia is among those who have supported the decision on East Jerusalem. Saudis try to build special relationships with Israel. What of it? It isn’t that Saudi Arabia is going to spoil its relations with Israel in response. They will keep cooperating. This is diplomacy and it says: avoid breaking relations, slamming the door and threatening, instead try to find ways to overcome emerging discrepancies.
Will Baku manage to balance between U.S. and Israel on the one side and Turkey and Iran on the other side?
Elkhan Shahinoglu: The given summit has aroused a number of questions in the Azerbaijani public. Can OIC hold a summit on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan too?
Israel fails to implement the UN resolutions on Palestine’s territories, and Armenia fails to implement the resolutions related to Azerbaijan’s lands. There is no difference here. However, Muslim states have diplomatic relations with Armenia. These are double standards. Due to these double standards, Azerbaijan will not spoil its relations with Israel just to favor Muslim states.
On the other hand, Muslim states lack solidarity. Saudi Arabia is hostile to Iran, there is war between religious currents. These contradictions prevent these countries from creating a single front against Israel and U.S.
Zardusht Alizade: Azerbaijan has been successfully balancing between all countries. We have admissible relations with both Israel and U.S., as well as with Turkey and Iran. Azerbaijan has declared itself a neutral state and a member of the Non-Alignment Movement.
We do not have to align someone in any political issues. No. We will support Palestine in the issues that meet the interests of Azerbaijan, and we will support Israel in the issues where Israel’s stance meets the one of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan opposes the slogan: “Israel is a Zionist formation and there should not be such a state.” We say that the Jewish people have the right to live in the territory of their country and this was backed by UN resolutions. At the same time, we say that this state has no right to occupy the lands of Israeli Arabs and prevent them from establishing their own state.
What about Ankara? How far may Turkey go in this issue? Will Erdogan shift from declarative statements to real steps: breach of diplomatic relations, economic ties?
Elkhan Shahinoglu: The situation in the Middle East is tense and Turkey will not increase tensions even more. Turkey is known to have just restored its diplomatic relations after the scandal over attack on a humanitarian convoy. I do not think that Turkey will break its diplomatic relations with Israel.
Zardusht Alizade: I think this decision of Trump is not a reason for Turkey to break its relations with Israel. Trump has adopted the decision and did his part of the job. Erdogan has condemned the decision seriously and questioned U.S. role of the mediator. I think it is enough. Further escalation of tensions and breach of relations with Israel is senseless.
Interviewed by Anar Huseinov