Neighbors / Turkey's Political Minefield

"Money has no race or religion. They will invest here and the ones to benefit will be Ahmet, Aisha and Mahmet, not Yitzhak," said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, defending the law to remove land mines that was adopted in the Turkish parliament in May.

In other words, it will not be the Jews but rather the Turks who will benefit from a plan allowing four Israeli companies to remove 900,000 mines buried along about 600-kilometers of the Turkish-Syrian border.

But Erdogan's argument did not convince the constitutional court that at the end of July annulled two of the substantive clauses to the law.

Since 2004, Turkey has been a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty that prevents the production, dissemination and use of anti-personnel mines, but only some 10,000 mines have been removed since they joined. The Turkish army, which was supposed to be responsible for the project, estimated that the cost would be too great - between $500 million and $1 billion - and suggested that it be transferred instead to private companies.

Erdogan accepted the proposal and his aides put together a draft law according to which the companies that won the tender would be able to lease the land that would be cleared for 44 years, for the purpose of raising organic agricultural products.

This is where the Israelis enter the picture. A consortium of three Israeli firms, Quadro, Redwing and Mott, together with agricultural firm Tahal, entered a bid and, despite heavy competition from others, appeared to have the best chances.

Tahal was supposed to develop the agricultural land, and this was supposed to be done, according to Turkish media reports, together with the Calik group. Calik is headed by Beyrat Albayrek, Erdogan's son-in-law.

The law was approved by parliament and the path seemed open to the Israeli firms.

However, at that point, the opposition parties started raising their voices and in June submitted an appeal against the law to the constitutional court.

The opposition claimed that the proposal to hand over Turkish land to Israeli companies on the sensitive border between Syria and Turkey could harm Turkish national security at a time when Ankara was trying to improve ties with Damascus. Even worse, the opposition stated, "the Turkish border is holy and no foreign country should have control over it."

They also accused Erdogan of trying to make amends with Israel, following his attack on President Shimon Peres during the Davos conference in January.

Erdogan tried to persuade the opposition that this was not a plan to transfer ownership to Israel but rather an opportunity to supply jobs for Turks, without it costing the Turkish government money, and he labeled his opponents "fascists ands racists."

In response, the head of the opposition Republican Party, Deniz Baykal, attacked Erdogan, saying that he was not ashamed to claim that the country had no money to destroy the mines itself "at a time when he was buying a third private jet for himself."

The court accepted the opposition's claims in part, saying that the land must not be leased, and annulled the leasing period that had been fixed. Now the court has to hand down its ruling with regard to other clauses of the law which are of less interest to the opposition.

A senior source in the ruling Justice and Development Party explained to Haaretz that the law was not pro-Israeli and the opposition was not anti-Israeli.

"This is irresponsible political behavior on the part of Erdogan's opponents who this time tried to torpedo a vital and humane initiative with nationalistic excuses," he said.

According to the Ottawa Treaty, Turkey is obliged to remove all the anti-personnel mines on its territory by 2014 and any delay could cost it.

Jordan's own refugee problem

Jordan's King Abdullah is tired of the rumors. Last week, in a more than symbolic gesture, he met with the heads of the Jordanian army and made one of his sharpest speeches to date.

He accused "elements with personal and suspicious agendas [of having] intentions to harm the unity of the kingdom."

What infuriated the king were reports in the Arab and Jordanian media hinting that Jordan had bowed to American pressure and agreed to a plan to absorb Palestinian refugees in its territory. "Jordan's position with regard to the right of return and the need to pay compensation to the refugees is a permanent position that has not changed," he said. "No outside body can dictate to Jordan a policy that is opposed to its interests."

Abdullah called on the citizens of Jordan to reject the rumors that are coming "from certain political salons" and to rally around the flag.

In this respect, Jordan is more Palestinian than the Palestinians, and it is extremely cautious about its national character. However, some whom are dissatisfied with the king's conduct are continuing to spread rumors even after the speech, saying that there is an agreement for an alternative solution for the Palestinian refugees in the framework of Obama's expected peace plan.

"These are shadow figures who are not prepared to look one in the eye and say these things openly," said one Jordanian government official. "How can they accuse Jordan of intentions to harm the right of return at a time when it is Jordan that is now taking pains to reduce the number of Jordanian identity cards that are distributed to the Palestinians so as to prevent Israel from carrying out its plot to flood Jordan with refugees?"