Learning From the Turks

If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hadn't expended all his energy rebuffing the criticism of his policy he heard in Turkey last Wednesday, he might have been able to learn something useful from his host about how to fight terrorism.

If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hadn't expended all his energy rebuffing the criticism of his policy he heard in Turkey last Wednesday, he might have been able to learn something useful from his host about how to fight terrorism. Because when Sharon's host, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, says it is not realistic to demand a total cease-fire, he knows what he's talking about. Sharon and Ecevit have a lot in common, although the Israeli prime minister, unlike his host, is not a poet and does not translate literature.

In 1974, Ecevit, a political left-winger, led the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. He fought international public opinion and institutions, and asserted "Turkey's democratic right to defend itself" against Kurdish terrorism. He is against the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, and like his predecessors in office he suffers from Kurdish acts of terrorism in Turkey's big cities. Like Israel (facing the Palestinians), Turkey continues to try all possible military means to suppress the Kurds. The Turks have leveled hundreds of villages and exiled Kurdish citizens inside the country; a Turkish invasion force entered northern Iraq almost officially in order "to eradicate nests of terrorists"; Turkey has sought to establish a security zone along its border with Iraq; it has waged an intensive policy of assassination, including the use of helicopters; and, like Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, Turkey does not permit Kurdish residents to settle in Turkey even for family reunification.

The Turkishness of Turkey, or as the Turks put it, "the unity of the state," is a fundamental element of the Turkish constitution, and anyone who tries to violate it can expect to be punished severely. In terms of its stringency, the Turkish position against the settlement of Kurds in the country resembles the firm stand of Israel against the Palestinians' right of return. Turkey and Israel are equally patronizing toward the Arabs.

But Turkey continues to negotiate with the Kurds. The former president, Turgut Ozal, intended to propose a comprehensive reconciliation plan with the Kurdish leadership, including the terrorist Abdullah Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party, but Ozal died before he could make the move. Former president Suleyman Demirel offered amnesty to Ocalan's followers after he was caught, and Turkey maintains (relatively) good relations with Mustafa Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the leaders of the major Kurdish groups, with the result that the two of them, largely for economic reasons, are ready to fight the terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Thanks to its ability to differentiate between the realistic Kurdish leadership and the terrorist groups, Turkey is able to coexist with the Kurds, within the parameters of an unresolved conflict that may never be resolved.

Israel too tried to embark on this interim road when Yitzhak Rabin understood that it was wrong to let terrorists dictate policy. When he realized that the militant Hamas was not a partner, he fought the organization and succeeded in maintaining a dialogue with the Palestinian Authority. His aspiration was not to terminate the conflict or to find other complete solutions, but to achieve a modus vivendi that would enable the sides to carry on until a better solution could be found.

Rabin understood the importance of declaring a construction freeze in the settlements, even if it was not implemented in full, and the necessity of strengthening the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as the only person who could accomplish things for his people.

That policy was abandoned because Arafat unrealistically expanded the list of achievements he wanted to attain within a given time, and because Israel was in no hurry to implement its part in the agreements, and now - because the distinction between terrorist organizations and a representative authority has been seriously blurred, both by Israel and by Arafat himself. In Israel's eyes, the PA is no more than a terrorist organization, while Arafat, for his part, has adopted the terrorist organizations as though they were part of the PA.

The Turkish-Kurdish lesson could, indeed should be emulated: a precise separation between the definition of terrorist groups and the official authority; conducting negotiations, even under fire, with the official authority while waging an intensive struggle against specified terrorist targets; treating Arafat as the boss in the areas under his control; and, above all, articulating a reasonable political plan. These are measures that could return the terrorists to their insane boundaries of existence, but without national Palestinian support. That is what happened to Kurdish terrorism in Turkey, and that, in large measure, is what happened to Hezbollah in Lebanon.