The Muslim Embrace

Erdogan suddenly finds himself having to defend Turkey from being labeled as a pan-Islamic country and a supporter of terror

Hamas could not have asked for a better gift from Turkey to mark its third anniversary of taking over the Gaza Strip: a deep rift between Turkey and Israel; Israel pushed into an international corner; the Gaza blockade high on the world agenda; the Turkish prime minister defining Hamas as a resistance organization as opposed to a terrorist organization; Egypt's opening of the Rafah crossing (though without violating the conditions of the economic blockade ); and the strengthening of Hamas vis-a-vis Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. And all of this without a single Qassam rocket.

A banner bearing the image of Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gaza City, June 6, 2010

But here is the dilemma Hamas is now facing: Should it let Turkey steal the show from Iran? Will the Turkish spectacle lift the siege on Gaza, or will it force Hamas to accept the renewal of the 2005 agreement concerning the crossing points - under which the PA is the landlord?

Lebanese commentator Khairallah Khairallah wrote this week that it would be better for Turkey not to adopt Gaza as "a Turkish historical problem" and that "[Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan should stop talking about how Turkey will not rest or remain silent until the siege is lifted." In Khairallah's view, this is because the problem is not Gaza, but rather the fact that it is controlled by Hamas and Iran. "Turkey can behave as arrogantly toward the Arab leaders as it wants," he wrote, "but Iran has already grabbed the problem of Gaza."

This analysis reflects the suspicion on the part of Arab leaders like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who fear the Palestinian problem will fall into the hands of non-Arab leaders who will steal the monopoly from them.

Erdogan, too, has had to tread through some of the political foam left in the wake of the flotilla ships. In a speech delivered this week at a conference in his family's hometown of Rize, he aimed his words at everyone who does not agree with his policy toward Israel. "Black propaganda has been launched against us by the international media, Turkish media organizations that agree with them, and diplomats who support the continuation of the status quo and are accusing Turkey of abandoning the West," he charged. Erdogan's outrage had been fueled by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said last week that if Europe had not rejected Turkey's entry into the European Union, Turkey would not have turned away from the West.

To this, Erdogan had a detailed answer: "Our foreign policy, democratization and the initiative to grant rights to the Kurds, as well as the package of amendments to the constitution are aimed at one thing only: improving the economy." These moves are not intended only to benefit the country's citizens, but also to prove to the EU that Turkey is economically fit to join. Erdogan has even appointed a special cabinet minister to conduct negotiations with Europe.

The Turkish prime minister then went on to mock the opposition, which opposes the package of constitutional amendments and applied to the Constitutional Court of Turkey to have them revoked. "If they were able to," Erdogan said, "they would have folded up the 11,000 two-lane highways that have been built [during his term in office] and taken them to the Constitutional Court to be revoked."

It's all business

He also noted that income from tourism increased from $8.5 billion to $23 billion. "Could this have happened had the visas not been eliminated?" Erdogan said, addressing those who had criticized him for cancelling the visa requirements for citizens of Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Jordan. This year Turkey expects to see about one million tourists from the Arab nations, among the approximately 30 million tourists expected from around the world. The improvement of relations with the Arab world, according to the Turkish leader, has nothing to do with ideology or religion. It's all business.

Erdogan can certainly take pride in his government's economic achievements after the major crisis Turkey experienced in 2001. Now, however, precisely because of the enriched uranium exchange agreement he signed with Iran, and the Muslim embrace he has received in the wake of the freedom flotilla, Erdogan suddenly finds himself having to defend Turkey from being labeled as a pan-Islamic country and a supporter of terror.

He uses sharp language to address Europe. "In private conversations [with European statesmen] they tell me the truth - that I am right - but this can't be said aloud," he claims. "And I tell them forthrightly: If you aren't a Christian club, you must accept Turkey."

Erdogan took the same opportunity to insult the new countries that have been accepted into the EU. "I see them, I visit them and everyone sees what they have there. They are lagging behind Turkey in every area - in human rights, the economy - and anyway they have virtual budgets." Not nice, but largely correct.

"The problem with these statements, whether about Europe, Israel or the United States," says a member of Turkey's Justice and Development Party who is a political advisor to parliament members from his party, "is that Erdogan is ultimately liable to look like a hot-headed and non-serious prime minister, and this reflects on all of Turkey. There are few people in the party who can say anything to him, especially when he is fuming. This doesn't, however, mean the anger at Israel is not authentic - it expresses public anger, not just the prime minister's personal anger. But you have to distinguish between anger at Israel and Turkey's foreign policy." Maybe.