Turkey’s attempts at “normalizing relations with Israel” apparently do not actually aim to normalize the relations.
As often happens in the Middle East, there are two sound-tracks going on — one perhaps in English to Israel, and one in Turkish to Turkey’s citizens. Both sound-tracks cannot be right.
On July 1, 2010, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addressed his parliament:
“Jerusalem is our issue. Contrary to what you assume, it is not a territory of Israel. According to the international law, East Jerusalem is a part of the state of Palestine and is one of the territories under occupation. Al-Aqsa Mosque is in East Jerusalem, too. Al-Aqsa Mosque is not Israeli territory and will not be. If peace happens one day, — and that is what I mean — East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine and a meeting of the Arab league will be held there, as well. We are giving a message of peace here. Yes, there will be peace and East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine.”
Jerusalem, he said, was a Turkish issue because of its period of Ottoman rule:
“Even the religious sites in east Jerusalem are administered according to the Ottoman precedent. There is no other practice. There is no other law. The Ottoman precedent is still valid.”
Then, referring to the Mavi Marmara incident, in which a Turkish flotilla, trying to break Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip, was intercepted by Israel, he said:
“This is the first time Israel has been isolated to this extent in the world. We have seen enormous solidarity. That is why its [Israel’s] government has started to break down. It is going to break down. It is our national honor to follow the law of Turkish citizens.”
Davutoglu, foreign minister at the time of the Mavi Marmara incident, added that Turkey would continue to isolate Israel in international platforms.
Since Davutoglu became prime minister in August, 2014, his stance against Israel has not changed.
On April 26, 2015, in an AKP party rally in the province of Erzincan, he targeted Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and alleged that Kilicdaroglu had asked earlier “Why do we not have ambassadors in Syria, Egypt and Israel?”
“Kilicdaroglu asks us a question on the side of Israel. They would be scared of asking questions to Israel. For their masters get instructions from them [Israelis].”
He then went on to explain his government’s criteria of forming international friendships:
“One: We cannot be friends with tyrants. Two: We cannot be friends with those who [stage or support] coup d’états. Three: We cannot be friends with those who trample upon human dignity. One: We are the friend of the oppressed. Two: We are defenders of liberties. Three: We always say justice.
“As long as Israel persecutes Gaza, as long as it enters Jerusalem, and Al-Aqsa Mosque with its combat boots, our becoming friends with Israel is out of the question. We will not be [their friend].”
Earlier on July 18, 2014, Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the CHP, had criticized Erdogan for not keeping promises about Gaza:
“Erdogan made an announcement after the Mavi Marmara incident: ‘I will go to Gaza in April.’ Then he said, ‘I will go to Gaza but not in April, in May.’ But it did not happen again. Then John Kerry told him: ‘Do not go to Gaza. Then Erdogan made another announcement: ‘The statement of Kerry was not nice. The date has been set. I will go to Gaza.” How many Junes have passed? Is the prime ministry of the Turkish republic so cheap?”
Even if you join the chorus of bashing Israel publicly and continually, no bashing seems to be enough for the government authorities. What is more tragic is that Turkish political parties, the histories of all of which are filled with many massacres and ethnic cleansing campaigns against minorities, seem to be in a competition to condemn, pressure or punish Israel for defending itself.
On May 26, 2015, Davutoglu attended the opening ceremony of an airport named after Salah al-Din al-Ayubbi (“Saladin”), a Muslim sultan of Kurdish origin and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt and Syria, who invaded Jerusalem in 1187. “We decided to name this airport after Salah al-Din al-Ayubbi to say Jerusalem eternally belongs to Muslims,” Davutoglu said. “Those who say ‘Jerusalem is the holy site of Jews’ should be ashamed.”
His remarks were aimed at Selahattin Demirtas, the co-head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who had earlier said publicly that Jerusalem belongs to Jews. Then he called out to Sultan Saladin:
“Just as you said ‘Jerusalem does not belong to the Crusaders,’ be our witness that we will keep on saying Jerusalem belongs to Muslims. We have not been friends with those who entered Al-Aqsa Mosque with their combat boots. And we will not be [their friend]”.
In Istanbul, on May 30, 2015, before hundreds of thousands of people who were celebrating the 562nd anniversary of the fall of Constantinople, Davutoglu delivered another speech, targeting two of the Turkish parliament’s opposition parties and their leaders: Selahattin Demirtas, the co-head of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
“Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Mavi Marmara [incident]. Demirtas asks for your votes. I am calling out to my Kurdish brothers with faith and conscience. Demirtas betrays the martyrs of Mavi Marmara and betrays Salah al-Din al-Ayubbi and says ‘Jerusalem belongs to Jews.’ How can one who votes for such a person find peace? I am also asking the candid voters of the CHP who have always held their heads up high against imperialism: How will you vote for Kilicdaroglu who does business with Israel and with those who have staged a coup in Egypt?”
Then, on December 22, 2015 Davutoglu was “suddenly” talking about the ongoing negotiations with Israel: “Talks with Israel are going on positively,” he said, “but there has not been a final solution yet.” Regarding the apology that was made by Israel to Turkey, Davutoglu said:
“The breakdown of our relations with Israel is about the incident of Mavi Marmara and the martyrdom of our dear citizens there. After the incident, we announced that we have three conditions in order to normalize our relations with Israel. Israel will apologize to Turkey; it will pay compensation to the families of martyrs, and the blockade on Gaza will be removed. The first condition was met in 2013 when Israeli PM Netanyahu made an apology. The apology was made openly and clearly and was also confirmed in writing just on the same day. The State of the Republic of Turkey has lived the honor of being the first state that has made Israel apologize for such an incident.
“The negotiations to meet other conditions are going on between the two parties [Turkey and Israel]. … Speculation made about this matter should not be taken seriously. Whatever our position was yesterday, it is the same today, and it will remain same tomorrow. Turkey insists on its demands of the compensation and the removal of the blockade on Gaza.”
From Israel’s point of view, removing the sea blockade would permit Hamas, which rules Gaza and is openly dedicated to destroying Israel, to import weapons intended for that end — the very reason the blockade was established in the first place.
As for his meeting on December 20, 2015, with Khaled Mashaal, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, Davutoglu implied that they were on the side of their Palestinian brothers every time and everyplace:
“Turkey will keep providing limitless support for the people of Palestine. No one should have any doubt that until the free state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital is established, our support will continue.
“None could dare question our sensitivity towards the cause of Palestine. Whoever says that ‘Turkey is forgetting about the people of Gaza and is in the process of approaching Israel by ignoring its support for Palestine’ commits the biggest slander against us. We do not forget Gaza and Palestine even in our dreams, let alone in negotiations. No one can lecture us about Palestine. Whatever is wrong for Palestine is also wrong for us. We discussed these issues in detail during our meetings with my dear friend, Khaled Mashaal. This is the main objective behind the talks of normalizing ties with Israel. We would never take a step that would hurt Palestine, Gaza and we would never hesitate to take any step from which they [Palestinians] would benefit.”
Cozying up to Hamas: Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu poses with Khaled Mashaal, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau (left). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan poses with Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh (right).
Turkey — after damaging or even destroying its relations with almost all of its neighbors – is now at the door of Israel, which the Turkish government has condemned several times by referring to it as “more barbaric than Hitler” and even expressed its wish of establishing “a Muslim Jerusalem.”
Due to such negative statements regarding Israel, the Turkish public has largely been brainwashed and filled with intense prejudice against Israel. Ridding them of it will be extremely difficult.
Turkish leaders would do well to stop seeing Israel solely as a “source of weapons and trade” with whose strength and cooperation they can do anything they want while they continue to bully their neighbors and minorities.
Turkish leaders might also do well publicly to recognize the sovereignty of the state of Israel. Actually, it may even be too late for the Turkish government to make positive statements about Israel. Turkish politicians have relied so much on their anti-Israel rhetoric to get public support that many of their voters would most probably go into a rage if they heard their political representatives say something nice about Israel.
They would also do well to stop making demonizing statements about the Jewish state and saying completely different things to their Israeli colleagues than they do to the Turkish public.
Sadly, the current Turkish government does not seem to have the potential to do so.
Turkey’s attempts at “normalizing relations with Israel” seem to aim more at gaining deeper Israeli support — economic, diplomatic and military — from which to benefit; but the “not so friendly” references to Israel by Turkish officials will not stop
Do Turkish government representatives also tell their Israeli colleagues that Khaled Mashaal is their “dear friend”? Do they also divulge that the only aim of the negotiations is to get compensation for the Mavi Marmara incident and to remove the “blockade” on Gaza, possibly so that weapons to be used against Israel can come in again? Is Israel to gain nothing out of a possible normalization? More importantly, do Turkish officials openly tell their Israeli counterparts that they eventually aim to see a “Muslim Jerusalem”?
No Anatolian city is to Turks what Jerusalem is to Jews historically, culturally and theologically. What is deeply rooted in Anatolia is Christianity. What would Turkish officials think if Israeli officials also told their citizens about “reviving the Christian cities of Anatolia”?
Probably, however, neither the Jewish roots of Jerusalem nor the Christian roots of Anatolia mean anything to Davutoglu and his representatives; many Islamic extremists think that Islam has been the only true religion since the beginning of time, and they deny the authenticity of other religions.
If Turkish authorities were to aim at an honest and productive deal with Israel, as well as real peace between Arabs and Jews, they would also address the problem of Arab violence against Jews in Israel, and say that they would strive to reduce it.
Also, instead of trying to legitimize Mashaal, a genocidal terrorist leader, Davutoglu could have said: “For peace to prevail in Israel, Hamas should also change its violent ways and aim for peaceful coexistence with Israel. We are ready to do our best to bring both sides together in a non-violent way.”
Unfortunately, Davutoglu did not say anything of the kind. He talked about “the pride of making Israel apologize,” thereby revealing that Turkey’s government officials do not see this apology as just a diplomatic gesture made for the sake of compromise; they see it as one of their triumphant acts through which they insulted and subjugated the Jewish state.
If Turkey is still so fond of Hamas and is still so dedicated to its dreams of establishing a “Muslim Jerusalem,” what good could emerge from these talks with Israel?
Until a different approach in Turkey prevails, these talks and deals seem destined to bring great damage to Israel.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara.
“Muslim Jerusalem”: Turkey’s Message of “Peace” to Israel
by Uzay Bulut
March 17, 2016 at 5:00 am