Turkey Seeking Greater Role Amid Mideast Tumult

While Ankara is busy kicking up dust, it was Egypt who managed to get Hamas to agree to a cease-fire on condition that Israel 'stop attacking the Gaza Strip.'

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A look at Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's agenda indicates his conviction that the processes underway in the Middle East provide his country with a historic window of opportunity to become a major political power in the region.

And so, while Turkey has harshly condemned Israel's latest strikes on the Gaza Strip as disproportionate, it is also working to stop the firing from Gaza.

Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 8, 2011 Credit: AP

The new round of Turkish action started on Wednesday, when Davutoglu met in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to discuss the need for governmental and economic reforms to quell demonstrations against the Syrian regime. Davutoglu, who has always been a welcome and respected visitor to Syria, also proposed that his interlocutors take Turkey as an example of a country that initiated economic and regime reforms some years ago.

According to Lebanese sources, the Syrians explained to the Turkish foreign minister that they are prepared to implement reforms, but "the timetable cannot be dictated from the street."

Davutoglu also met with Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal in the Turkish Embassy in Damascus to try to persuade him to agree to an immediate cease-fire with Israel. According to Turkish sources, Turkey fears another Israeli operation like Cast Lead - which would not only harm many Palestinian civilians, but might set a new regional agenda that could replace the recent wave of reforms.

The sources said Davutoglu suggested to Meshal that Turkey arbitrate between Hamas and Fatah, adopting the Egyptian formula for reconciliation from two years ago, with changes Hamas could accept this time. The Turkish foreign minister also suggested that Meshal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, meet in Istanbul to iron out their differences.

Meshal reportedly accepted the invitation, but Abbas turned it down saying talks could fail due to Hamas' refusal to recognize him as the legal president and representative of the Palestinians.

Davutoglu continued to make the rounds, arriving in Cairo yesterday to promote his plans for both internal Palestinian reconciliation and a Palestinian-Israeli cease-fire. During meetings with Egyptian Prime Minister Isam Sharaf and Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi, the Turkish official tried to persuade them to change the Egyptian formula for Palestinian reconciliation.

In a joint press conference with al-Arabi, Davutoglu appeared optimistic about reconciliation, but did not mention the situation in Gaza. An Egyptian source told Haaretz yesterday that Egypt viewed Turkish involvement favorably, but added that "Turkey is not in a position to influence Israel and without that ability, its role cannot be significant. Egypt will continue to be the key country in implementing a cease-fire and in the question of reconciliation."

And so while Turkey is busy kicking up dust, it was Egypt who last night managed to get the Hamas leadership in Gaza to agree to a cease-fire "on condition that Israel stop attacking the Gaza Strip," as an Egyptian official put it.

According to the official, there is ongoing contact between the Egyptian leadership and "the responsible officials" in Israel, though he did not specify at what level.

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