Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gaza Imbroglio Places Turkey in Unique Role

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday. PHOTO from Today's Zaman

While Turkey presses on in its efforts to secure a cease fire in Gaza, using its newly acquired position at the UN Security Council to call for an end to Israeli military operations, Ankara is positioning itself to play a major diplomatic role. President Gül, Prime Minister Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, and chief foreign policy advisor Ahmet Davutoğlu are all engaged in serious shuttle diplomacy, all hoping to prove Turkey has the diplomatic clout necessary to reach a satisfactory resolution of the conflict. At stake is Turkey's historic relationship with Israel (and the United States), its potential to prove itself a worthy foreign policy ally in Europe, and probably most in the minds of the Turkish government, its ambitions to become a major regional player, the latter of which also rests squarely on its perception in the Arab world.

Turkey's recent diplomacy might well have bolstered its foreign policy credentials with the EU. Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, praised Turkey's efforts to mediate with Hamas as constructive. And, encouraging words from the Guardian's Simon Tisdall:
Turkey, on the other hand, has played an important role as an intermediary. This should not come as a big surprise. Why the Germans and others (including Sarkozy) cannot accept what a great addition to the EU Ankara's membership would be is hard to understand.
If the proposed cease fire brokered by France and Egypt is actually accomplished, Turkey might well play a pivotal role in future peacekeeping. However, Ankara's foreign policy is very much a balancing act, and there exist plenty of opportunities for it to go awry. Criticizing Erdoğan and the government's dealing with Hamas, Hürriyet issued an editorial arguing that the government should take care in its relations with Hamas, questioning the government's consideration of Hamas as a "responsible actor," and urging the 300+ parliamentarians who are members of the Turkish-Israeli Interparliamentary Friendship Group to play a greater diplomatic role. However, the government's position is unlikely to change. Ha'aretz is reporting that Ankara rejected a proposed visit by Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni following Prime Minister Erdoğan's remarks earlier this week. The explanation reportedly given by Turkish diplomats is that there is no reason for Livni to come unless she is prepared to discuss a cease fire. Turkish diplomats have neither confirmed nor denied the report. Although the recent imbroglio in Gaza is unlikely to change the fundamentals of the Turkey-Israel relationship (see Lale Sarııbrahımoğlu, Dec. 31), it has caused numerous Turkish commentators to be more confident in asserting that ultimately Israel needs Turkey more than the other way around -- for example, see Bülent Kenes in the Guardian.

In other news, Jordan's Queen Rania, Syria's Asma Assad, Qatar's Sheikha Mozah and Lebanon's Wafaa Sleiman joined the Turkish prime minister's wife Emine Erdoğanin İstanbul to call for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hamas. And, in continued solidarity with the people of Gaza, donations continue to flow into local mosques for distribution in Gaza while street protests show no signs of disappearing. In evidence of just how high feelings run, Turkish basketball fans halted a game between a Turkish and Israeli team on Tuesday.

And, not to be lost in the ether, news of anti-Semitism from Bianet:
Criticizing anti-semite comments and reactions in protests against Israel's offensive in Gaza, former head of the conservative rights organization MAZLUMDER Ayhan Bilgen and rights activist –and a Turkish Jew- Avi Haligua underlined the error of identifying a state's policies with its people.

. . . .

"It's a grose error to bill the faults of the Israeli state to Jews living in other parts of the world" said Bilgen. "We must clearly distinguish between demands of peace in the Middle East and demands that would instigate further ethnic and religious fights. One should not forget that the most powerful reaction to Israel's policies comes from within the country, from Israeli peace activists"

Noting he had covered most of the demonstrations in Istanbul, "I'm not comfortable faced with demands to account for Israel's actions" said Haligua.

While this is the case, he also reacts to PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying "we've welcomed Jews as our guest here 600 years ago".

"I'm not a Israeli citizen says Haligua. "Utilization of the notion of 'guest' after 600 years shows how deep anti-semitism goes. AKP exploits the situation for the upcoming elections just as the Israeli government does."

He notes that the media lays ground to racist comments through sentimental approaches. "We should demand peace instead of revenge."
Wise words indeed, and on that message, I recommend American progressive Bill Moyers' recent commentary on Gaza and the struggle for peace in the region.

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