Turkey can use its foreign policy charms to help Gaza

 As I was typing these lines, Hamas was still rejecting a permanent ceasefire, calling instead for a humanitarian truce that would last only for a few hours. Despite heavy losses in the Gaza Strip, Hamas insists on rejecting a ceasefire proposal put forward by Egypt while Israel claims that the proposal does not meet its demands and conditions. If Turkey is sincere about helping the people of Gaza, it needs to get involved and help broker a cease-fire, rather than adopt a one-sided attitude on the conflict.

In the last Israeli offensive against Gaza, a cease-fire was brokered with the help of then Egyptian President Morsi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The proposal, which was accepted by Hamas at the time, was almost identical to the one that is being proposed today.

However, although the formula is the same, those on the table today are not.

Egypt under Sisi has been blocking the Rafah Crossing even in terms of humanitarian efforts and the Hamas leadership has showed no interest in accepting any offer from the Egyptian side which oppressed their longtime ally the Muslim Brotherhood. The United States, on the other hand, weakened its hand in the failed Arab-Israeli peace initiative as a result of Secretary of State Kerry. The U.S. also lists Hamas as a terror organization which bars it from negotiating with the group. Qatar, meanwhile, an alienated Gulf state known to be backing Hamas and is on Khaled Mashaal’s list of ‘possible peace brokers’ along with Turkey, is not considered a viable option by Israel since it shelters the Hamas leader and the Qatari-owned TV network is seen as the center of anti-Israeli incitement.

Supporting the Palestinian cause

This picture leaves us with Turkey, which already had a fragile relationship with Israel and has been quite vocal in its opposition to the current operation against Gaza. It is indeed crucial to criticize, even condemn openly when there is injustice and loss of innocent lives. Turkey has been doing much of this lately, perhaps a little excessively, at a time when there is a need for a moderate voice. Prime Minister Erdogan’s “one-minute” incident in Davos may have made him favorable on the Arab street for a period. However, in practice it failed to contribute to the Palestinian cause as expected. After the 2009 Davos Summit, Israel did not stop building new settlements, did not lift the blockade, did not refrain from military operations on Gaza or come to accept the terms of the Palestinian authorities. Driving a wedge between Turkey and Israel did not contribute to regional peace or have any productive result.

I have always been a staunch supporter of Turkey’s foreign policy. There are few countries in the world that can enjoy good relations with Russia, NATO, Ukraine and the European Union at the same time. There are very few countries in the world that can bring Iran, the United States and the Gulf countries on the same table and there is only one country which can offer visa-free travel to both Israeli and Iranian tourists and have zero issues with hosting them both – even during periods of diplomatic tension. However, being at odds with Israel is neither serving the Turkish street nor the Turkish aspirations in the region.

If Turkey enjoyed good relations with Israel today, it could contribute to a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. Turkey, which has been a generous provider of humanitarian relief to both Palestine and the region, could persuade Hamas to negotiate its terms through diplomacy and not rockets. If Turkey was unapologetically supportive and protective of Jewish people in the region, criticizing Israel would create the same perception as criticizing Venezuela and the points made would not get lost in the ringing alarms of anti-Semitism.

Turkey could be a key player in the Arab-Israeli peace process if it disengaged from the accusatory tone of pan-Arab nationalists

Ceylan Ozbudak

 

As a citizen of Turkey, I am certain that neither the people of Turkey nor the Turkish authorities are anti-Semites. As the minister of culture Omer Celik explained this week, “Turkish Jews are not our guests. We are all landlords together. The reaction shown against those who murder victims in Gaza is a right. But those who are trying to turn this rightful reaction into a reaction against Jewish people in general, and Turkish citizens of Jewish descent in particular, have nothing to do with a right.” On the other hand, Turkey needs to embrace both sides, not be drawn into baseless anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and help the parties engage in sound and sober political dialogue rather than promote and feed the legitimate resentment of the Palestinians.

How the U.S. sees Turkey

I’m not daydreaming when I see Turkey playing a key role in an Arab-Israeli reconciliation process if it disengages with the accusatory tone of the Pan-Arab nationalists. U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf made this comment Thursday: “The Turks have a role they can play. We’ve said those comments [against the State of Israel] made it harder for them to play a role, but they do have a role to play and they have a relationship with Hamas. They can have conversations that we can’t. So obviously, the Turkish foreign minister is a key player in the region and has some leverage he can bring to bear on the situation. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.”

If Turkey allied with Israel

If Turkey allied with Israel, the result would certainly help in solving the Syrian civil war and the humanitarian crisis stemming it has led to. Both Israel and Turkey could oppose Hezbollah’s offensive rhetoric in the region hand in hand and would be more able to repress its militant branch. A Turkish-Israeli alliance could also help contribute toward government moderation in Egypt, which has been blamed for the deaths and imprisonment of protesters. Turkey could also benefit greatly from an alliance with Israel in terms of lobbying U.S. decision makers and the accession to the European Union.

Investing in dead-end aspirations has proven to be counterproductive. The Arab world, however, has for the last six decades been keen on imagining a Middle East without Israel as a neighbor. Politics is a practical social science and there is a difference between wishful thinking and analysis. Whether some like to admit it or not, Israel is here to stay. As the Arab states engaged themselves in internal conflicts, which in turn weakened them, Israel grew in strength and those who ‘predict’ its annihilation might need to reconsider changing their views.

The map of the world changed following the First and Second World Wars. That change even affected the oldest continent, Europe. It can be seen right up till this day (we are now talking about a new Kurdish state within Iraq). Like all countries, Israel needs to apologize for its transgressions but not for its existence. Turkey needs to quickly disengage from stirring rhetoric that is not constructive and, as a Muslim country, embrace the Jewish people with more compassion, if we want to help the Palestinian people.

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Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak
 

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