A meeting on Monday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Pope Francis may have grave implications for Jerusalem as both leaders appear to be building an agenda based upon their joint opposition to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.
The meeting, which took place at the Vatican, was already significant in that it was the first visit by a Turkish head of state since diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Turkey were established in 1960.
However, a statement released by the Vatican says that both leaders also used the occasion to discuss the ”the status of Jerusalem, highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region (Middle East) through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law.”
Both Erdogan and Pope Francis are opposed to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Erdogan responded to the move by calling for an emergency meeting of the OIC. The summit, held in Istanbul, declared “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine” and called upon “all countries to recognize the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.”
The OIC also declared Trump’s decision “null and void legally” and “a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts” that would give impetus to “extremism and terrorism.”
Erdogan, who spoke by phone with the pope at the time expressing his concerns over Jerusalem, called upon the Vatican in Monday’s meeting to help Turkey and the Muslim world “preserve Jerusalem’s status.”
“We need to work together to preserve Jerusalem’s status,” he said to Pope Francis. “The messages you will convey to the Catholic world on this are important,” Erdogan said, emphasizing that both leaders had agreed to continue joint efforts.
Turkey currently holds the presidency of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a coalition of 57 Muslim states. Islam is currently the second largest religion in the world with 1.6 billion followers, and an alliance between Catholicism, which has 1.2 billion adherents worldwide could very well make a formidable force for advancing an anti-Israel agenda concerning Jerusalem.
Moreover, Though the Vatican has enormous influence internationally, it has no military. This deficiency could be offset by an alliance with Turkey which has the largest military in the region.
Pope Francis may actually view an Islamic global agenda as being worthy of support. The pope on Monday presented Erdogan with an “angel of peace” on a bronze medallion, that is seen embracing the northern and southern hemispheres while overcoming a dragon.
“This is the angel of peace who strangles the demon of war,” the pope told Erdogan as he gave him the medallion. “(It is) a symbol of a world based on peace and justice.”
Pope Francis presented Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas with a similar medallion at the Vatican in May 2015. At the time, the pope said that the “angel of peace” was“destroying the bad spirit of war” and praised Abbas for being an “angel of peace.”