This is a guest post by Serkan Zorba, an assistant professor of physics at Whittier College in California. A Turkish native of Kurdish ancestry, Dr. Zorba has been involved in interfaith efforts since 9/11. His contribution has been inspired by recent events surrounding the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, including the attacks by neo-conservatives on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which I noted in an article I wrote earlier this week.
Up until the last few years, Turkey has been a democracy in name only. In reality, it has been a military-ruled regime since at least last five decades. Erdogan’s government has been making strides in making Turkey more democratic and prosperous… It is them who are slowly ridding Turkey of the militaristic regime that has been ruling Turkey for decades. It is Erdogan’s government which instituted “zero-problems with neighbors” policy, while the traditional official Turkish government attitude was the paranoid “Turks have no friend except Turks” maxim. It is this government that is vigorously making democratic reforms that are unheard of in Turkey. Ironically, in the last constitutional changes that were being deliberated in the Turkish parliament, the BDP, the pro-Kurdish party, sided with the ultra-nationalists and did not support the proposed democratic steps.
Furthermore, while Hamas and Iranian regimes are indeed extremist, Erdogan’s party’s Islamic position is one of moderation. The current Turkish government offers a golden opportunity for a potentially peaceful Middle-East. It has the leverage to turn the tide against the extremists in the region, including transforming the Hamas mentality. To their credit, they initiated indirect talks between Syria and Israel. They had also wanted to broker the release of Gilad Shalit, which I believe Turkey could and can still pull off. But the Israeli government decided to attack Gaza killing 1400 people, mostly women and children.
Although I believe that Israel does have every right to defend itself, in the last few years, due to perhaps the paranoia developed out of a feeling of loneliness in the seemingly hostile neighborhood and partly because of its own incompetent and extremist politicians and its foolish and arrogant “friends” outside, it has been acting like a wild dog. The way Israel is carrying itself while trying to protect itself is foolishly getting out of control. This out-of-control fire is about to destroy the usually underrated friendship of its most important and sincere Muslim ally in the region. In fact, I believe that the friendship of Turkey for Israel is even more crucial and valuable in the long term than that of the US or EU. Because, unlike the latter, Turkey lives in the neighborhood, it is a strong regional power, its population is mostly Muslim, but it is a sincere friend of Jews (the Ottoman Empire embraced the Jews who were kicked out of Spain in 1492 with open arms and have lived in Turkey in peace) and has huge leverage over other Muslims in the region and the world due to its historic heritage. If there is any chance at all for a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine problem in particular and the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, the Turks will have a lot to bring to the table. The dictatorships in the region might abide by Israeli demands and/or be at least not so noisy about what is going on in the conflict, but we all know that that will only delay the resolution of the problems. In fact, the Turkish regime was also not so much different up until the Erdogan’s government: uninterested in the regional problems, busy with trying to tightly control its own people. Now that Turkey is becoming more democratic, the government cannot turn a blind eye to what its subjects think about the sufferings of the Palestinians. Hence, its recent and poignant criticism of Israel. I believe most criticism of Israel coming from Turkey and the West is justified. But somehow the criticism of the West does not have any effect on Israel. The criticism coming from Turkey is different, and in fact it can prove to be a life- and peace saver for the Israelis, only if Israelis would listen and take the initiative I will outline below. Of course Palestinians have a lot of wrongs as well, but frankly they are in no position to do anything at this stage. This is not unlike an adult and a child fighting. Which one would be easier to talk some sense into?
Now I see that just because Turkey is speaking up against recent moves by the Israeli government, some politicians and columnists in the West are speaking ill of Erdogan’s government, questioning his “real” intentions, accusing it of shifting away from the West, etc. Turkey and Brazil brokered an unexpected diplomatic deal pertaining to Iran’s nuclear program, which addressed most of the concerns and wishes of the West, but the West brushed the deal aside and imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. Instead of being commended for its tireless efforts to help establish peace between disputing parties such as the Syrians and the Israelis, the Syrians and the Iraqis, the Serbs and the Bosnians, and now the West and the Iranians, Turkey is being ill spoken of and accused of isolating itself from the West.
The pre-Erdogan Turkey, with its sterile, ultra-secular, and corrupt regime, could only have dreamed of even attempting to do what Erdogan’s government has been doing both inside and outside Turkey.
Israel does have every right to exist peacefully in the region. This means that Israel will want to live in this overwhelmingly Muslim neighborhood of the Middle East forever. Who in their right mind can believe Israel will achieve that by always maintaining a superb military edge? Tides pertaining to militaristic power always turn! What will happen then? The Jesus’ saying “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” will necessarily come true. Do the Jews want that? I doubt it. Is there any other way? Yes! No matter how powerful a country Israel is today, no matter how successful, rich, and most importantly, how they produce (in my mind) some of the wisest people on Earth, they should humbly start to work with the Turks (especially Erdogan’s government) to start a new era of peaceful coexistence: To do that Israel should
1- Mend the relations with Turkey asap, before it becomes irreparable.
2- And persuade Turkey to be a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Turkey would love to do that giving what they have achieved recently with Syria, Greece, Armenia, Syria-Israel indirect talks, Iranian nuclear issue etc.)
3- Have Turkey negotiate with Hamas and Fatah to stop all hostile acts against Israel (Turkey can easily pull this off if it knows that Israel will do its part).
4- Give up the brute-force policies unless absolutely necessary.
5- Give up the land-grab policy they constantly undertake in the West Bank.
6- Declare a new era in Israeli policies in the region by helping to build and improve the Palestinian life standards. Regardless of the cynics, I believe that the Palestinians will respond in very positive way especially if they see the sincerity and care their once-relatives extend to them. (Why does Israel not capitalize on this I don’t understand).
7- Again with the mediation of the Turks, help establish a Palestinian State.
8- With all the foregoing achieved, the Arab states will be easily persuaded by Turkey to normalize their relations with Israel.
Turkey can turn the tide against the Muslim extremists in the region. Erdogan enjoys huge popularity in the Arab World. A successful emerging power and a model democracy with a Muslim majority, Turkey is increasingly being considered as a role model amongst other Islamic nations. The sheer diplomatic success that Turkey has been achieving is a blow to the so-called Islamic terrorists.
Israel needs to turn the tide against its own extremists –both within and outside Israel. The pro-Israel lobbies in the West are hurting Israel, without realizing it, by encouraging Israel to insist on its wrongful and dysfunctional policies. As a result, Israel has been doing a great deal of damage to itself (which its enemies could not have dreamed of delivering): a ruthless and counter-productive siege on Gaza since 2007, and the bloody war on Gaza in 2008-2009, and the very recent bungled Gaza aid flotilla operation. Isn’t it high time to think outside the box? Insisting on the questionable and sterile Israeli policies is increasingly isolating Israel in the eyes of the whole world.