Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s three-day visit to Israel ended in a diplomatic storm Saturday, when she made an unscheduled visit to Orient House, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s headquarters in eastern Jerusalem.
Ciller, who met earlier in the day with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in the Gaza Strip, met in Jerusalem with Faisal Husseini, the PLO’s top official in Jerusalem, and other Palestinian leaders.
Israeli security personnel accompanying the Turkish leader attempted to go with her into the building, but they were stopped by Palestinian guards who told them they had no jurisdiction to enter.
The security personnel insisted on entering, pointing out that journalists were being let inside. The confrontation threatened to turn violent, but was resolved when the media also were refused entry.
At Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin referred to the incident, saying that Ciller had “pulled one over on us.”
“I’m sorry the Turkish prime minister accepted this terrible suggestion and did what she did,” Rabin said.
He added, however, that despite the incident, relations between Israel and Turkey would not be harmed.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he would speak with Faisal Husseini about the incident.
“Anything having to do with the Jericho-Gaza (self-rule) accord has nothing to do with the Orient House, it does not operate in any formal matter,” Peres told Israel Radio. “They have no status and cannot say that this is their territory.”
Police Minister Shahal suggested at the Cabinet meeting that one way to avoid unplanned visits by foreign dignitaries would be to post Israeli police offices outside the building permanently.
Leaders of the opposition parties called for the immediate closure of Orient House.
“The incident at Orient House shows that in practice, Jerusalem is being divided into two capitals,” Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu said. “This cannot be allowed to happen.”
Palestinian officials hailed the 15-minute visit as an affirmation of their claims to the eastern half of Jerusalem.
“The visit of the Turkish prime minister to Orient House strengthens the Palestinian position that East Jerusalem is the future capital of the Palestinian state,” Faisal Husseini told the daily newspaper Ma’ariv.
With negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem set to being in 1996, both Israeli and Palestinian officials have become acutely sensitive to any move that could be interpreted as a shift in control over the city.
Two weeks ago, President Clinton avoided creating a similar incident when he canceled a visit to the Old City after Palestinian officials opposed Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert’s plans to accompany him.
During Ciller’s trip to Israel, the first by a Turkish prime minister, the two countries signed agreements to cooperate against crime, drug smuggling and terrorism.
Ciller, who had called her visit “long overdue,” said at a news conference before leaving that the two countries were also close to signing a free-trade agreement.
Turkey also pledged aid to the Palestinian autonomous areas. Speaking after her meeting with Arafat, Ciller said Turkey would provide aid for building housing projects, sewage systems and other infrastructure projects.