Zaman, Turkey
July 30 2004

If Accelerated Diplomacy Derails...

ALI H. ASLAN


What Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said in defense of the
government after the train disaster was right in a way. A person who
does nothing, makes no mistakes either. However, just as one who
works has the right to make a mistake, it is also incumbent upon that
person to realize the mistake and try not to do it again.


When the issue is something that directly affects people's lives,
like mass transportation, it is natural that expectations are high.
In issues concerning a whole nation's destiny, like foreign policy,
it is much more essential to realize the mistakes on time and make
the necessary corrections.

Erdogan government is generally doing a good job on foreign policy as
well as in mass transportation. Our accelarated EU train is advancing
toward the station where membership negotiations will start. It is
doing so in great difficulty while struggling to repair the
broken-down political and economic infrastructure of the country. The
delay accumulated for so many years is being recovered. A dangerous
referendum curve on another delayed issue like Cyprus, was passed
without derailment. Turkey gradually has become a country that exerts
more influence in the region and has enhanced its contribution to
international peace. Relations between Turkey and the United States,
which has changed course during the parliamentary motion crisis, at
least seemingly working fine again. However, there is an issue that
has the potential to ruin this good course. And that is
Turkish-Israeli relations.

Don't say, "Is it your job to write about Turkish-Israeli relations
from Washington?" If Turkey and Israel sneeze, many in Washington
catch cold. The virus spreads to the Turkish diplomatic mission,
lobbyists as well as official/private Americans dealing with Turkey.

As you know, the relation between

U.S.-Israel is even something more than a "strategic partnership."
Actually, it's a "strategic brotherhood." Even though they live far
away from each other, they are like single-egg twins, who feel each
other's pains. Almost everything that bothers the U.S. also bothers
Israel. The United States feels the same for anything that perturbs
Israel.

It is certain that what has been bothering Israel of late are Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's harsh statements. Using the term
'state terrorism,' to describe the things Israel does in Palestine,
the prime minister could be appeasing most of the Turkish people as
well as others in the region. However, this situation makes people,
who favor the wellbeing of Turkish-American-Israeli ties, and want
Turkey to reach to the EU station without any mishap, deeply
concerned.

When the prime minister made these remarks for the first time, early
evaluations in Washington were that it could have been a political
tactic in order to secure the Organization of the Islamic Conference
(OIC) term presidency for Turkey. That is, people had good thoughts.
This is because Erdogan is the one of the key AKP leaders, who has
been able to convince Americans and Israelis the most, that he has
changed although he comes from an anti-American and anti-Israeli
background. The prime minister worked a lot before and after he came
to power in order to eradicate any Jewish lobby doubts. This was the
right thing to do. International politics has to be played by the
rules. The U.S. influence on world policy and that of Israel and its
friends on U.S policy cannot be denied.

However, since Erdogan maintained this attitude against Israel after
Turkey took over the OIC term presidency, old chapters that were
about to be closed by Washington, are gradually being reopened.

First of all, those elements who never closed in those chapters, got
an upper hand in Washington. They had the opportunity to say to the
majority, who consider the AK Party government 'workable with',
"We've told you. They won't ever change. See how they manifested the
anti-Semitism within themselves."

Even though the prime minister says, "our criticisms are not directed
at the state of Israel or the Jewish people but at the Sharon
government", most counterparts do not perceive it that way. The
expression used is "state terrorism," not the "Sharon government
terrorism." Firstly, they find the remark "state terrorism" too heavy
to bear. It even causes more trouble when a prime minister personally
utters these words. One of the leading people in the Jewish lobby
said to me, "The European Union also severely criticizes Israel but
never has it used such a term. Besides, while many countries consider
Turkey's fight against the PKK as state terrorism, didn't Israel
support Turkey?"

The Erdogan government's Middle East policy is gradually being viewed
as pan-Islamist, especially by the Jewish lobby. Both the United
States and Israel do not see pan-Islamism in the region to be in
their interests. One should not expect the Judeo-Christian West
warmly favor a renewed Ottoman spirit in Turkey. Hence, it is no
surprise Turkey's proposal to be a mediator in the Middle East was
not accepted by either Israel or the United States.

Nobody is saying let's determine our Middle East policy solely in
line with Israel and U.S. policies. However, we must not forget that
we will still need to knock on the Jewish lobby's door in Washington
for certain reasons, like the so-called Armenian genocide. Besides,
while we are already struggling with difficulty riding through our
broken-down state infrastructure with high-speed diplomacy, during
this critical EU period, when Turkey needs stability internally and
externally more than ever, shouldn't we refrain from attitudes that
could give ammunition to internal and external elements who want to
derail our train?