Israel Endorses Kurdish Independence in Lone Show of Support

  • Iraqi Kurds have autonomy referendum scheduled this month
  • Turkey sees referendum emboldening its own Kurdish separatists

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for Kurdish statehood, offering a lone source of backing for an autonomy referendum in Iraq this month that allies oppose.

Israel “supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state,” Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday night during his visit in Latin America.

His endorsement clashes with the U.S. and Turkish positions. The Turkish government is concerned that sovereignty for Iraqi Kurds would encourage its own Kurdish insurgents. The U.S. says a Kurdish vote could destabilize the region and undercut the war on extremism.

Israel, with few allies in the region, has previously spoken in support of Kurdish autonomy, but the timing of Netanyahu’s statement so close to the scheduled vote gives it added significance. Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold a referendum on Sept. 25, to be followed by another for a new parliament and president on Nov. 6.

Netanyahu added that Israel still considers the outlawed Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terrorist organization, even though Turkey continues to support Hamas, the militant organization controlling the Gaza Strip. Just hours earlier, former army deputy chief of staff Yair Golan had told a conference in Washington that he doesn’t consider the PKK a terrorist organization even though the U.S. does.

Israel and Turkey recently reinstated diplomatic relations after years of estrangement and are working to establish energy ties. But they continue to trade barbs over Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, who also seek statehood, and actions in Jerusalem, home to Jewish and Muslim shrines.

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