Turkey PM: Israel election results paint 'very dark picture'
Erdogan: Critics misunderstand Turkey's foreign policy if they think it sides with Hamas or is anti-Israel.
Turkey's fierce censure of Israel's offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip will not end its role as a peace mediator in the Middle East, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Friday.
Israel's military campaign, which ended in a Jan. 18 truce, triggered protests from its ally Turkey that culminated in shouting match between Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Erdogan, in an interview with Reuters and two Turkish newspapers late on Friday said the results of the Israeli elections this week, showing gains by right-wing parties, had "painted a very dark picture" for the future.
Predominantly Muslim but officially secular, NATO member Turkey has a unique position in the region as it has close ties with Israel and Arab countries as well as with Washington.
Some diplomats and analysts say Turkey's role as a mediator in the Middle East, and in particular as a neutral negotiator between Israel and Syria, suffered short-term damage because of Erdogan's fierce criticism of Israel and defense of Hamas.
"I don't think that way... Turkey is a strong country that has a [unique] international position," said Erdogan, speaking on his plane while returning to Ankara from a campaign trip to Sivas.
"We were not the ones who wanted this negotiations role. In negotiations between Syria and Israel both countries wanted Turkey to be the mediator - that is why we took part in it."
He said critics misunderstood Turkish foreign policy if they thought the government was siding with Hamas or was against Israel. Turkey wanted peace in the region and was defending the helpless, in this case the civilians in Gaza, he said.
He said the ruling AK Party, which has roots in political Islam, had restored Turkey's influence in the world and it was only natural that Turkey should use its newfound strength to help solve crises from the Caucasus to the Middle East.
Erdogan received a hero's welcome in Turkey and praise in the Arab world after his outburst in Davos, where he accused Israel of "knowing very well how to kill," but raised eyebrows among Western diplomats who asked whether Turkey was turning away from the West.
Erdogan urged the next Israeli government to look at how it conducted policies and actions towards the Palestinians and to lift what he called an embargo on the Palestinians. He said Israel's tough stance against the Palestinians was failing.
Analysts say Israel is as split as the Palestinians and the prospects of the two making peace are dimmer than ever.
"Unfortunately we have seen that the [Israeli] people have voted for these [rightist] parties and that makes me a bit sad," Erdogan said of the Israeli election result. "Unfortunately the election has painted a very dark picture."
"With the cease-fire the embargo should be lifted. The Palestinian people should be freed from an open-air prison they are living in right now, this is against human rights," he said.
In a phone call expected soon with U.S. President Barack Obama, Erdogan said he would urge him to take a different approach to the Middle East than the Bush administration.
"I am expecting President Obama to be the voice of the voiceless and the protector of the unprotected," he said.
Erdogan again defended his criticism of Israeli authorities.
"We have to distinguish between two things - the Israeli people and the Israeli government. I say the same to my people. I see anti-Semitism as a crime against humanity," Erdogan said.
"I have also said that while anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity, Islamophobia is also a crime against humanity. I have said that the Jewish people should take part in fighting this kind of prejudice," he said.