ERGUN BABAHAN

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ERGUN BABAHAN
September 04, 2010, Saturday

Turkey is now ‘little America’

US President Barack Obama is up to something that his predecessors worked hard to accomplish but failed to succeed at in the end: resolving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
But, based on the players who will be participating in the peace process, we don’t see many reasons to be optimistic about this round. First, let us look at the social legitimacy of all the participants.

President Obama is experiencing the negative effects of a crisis that is considered the worst since the Great Depression. Unless something miraculous happens, he will suffer a great defeat in the mid-term elections slated for November. His popularity has also decreased drastically.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading a ragtag government that is producing all sorts of cacophony and is not likely to sing the same tune about as critical an issue as peace.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is representing a fragmented nation, and what he alone represents is dubious.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is a dictator whose health problems are worsening each day. Who will replace him is unknown, and no one can argue that he has any credibility with his own people. The same applies to the king of Jordan, Abdullah II bin al-Hussein. In other words, it is a mission impossible to secure peace through the efforts of the two leaders who are maimed by a lack of full democratic support -- Obama and Netanyahu -- and the three leaders who suffer from problems of legitimacy -- Abbas, Mubarak and King Abdullah.

Hamas, democratically elected to office, is not attending the summit and is doing everything it can to derail the talks.

This is where America’s dilemma lies. As democracy improves in the region, anti-Israeli and anti-US sentiments surge. Moreover, Washington is experiencing difficulties in influencing democratically elected governments. The recent silent crisis between Turkey and the US is proof of this. In the past when its democratic standards were low, Turkey’s foreign policy was nothing but a loyal imitation of US foreign policy. As its democratic standards improved and the views and perceptions of the general public were taken into account, this changed. Turkey’s perspectives on the issues and its solutions have been differentiated from those of Washington. This was particularly pronounced with respect to the sanctions against Iran.

In other words, we can assert that as democracy and democratic practices become more widespread in the Middle East, things will be harder for the US and Israel. Thus, each step toward increased democracy in the region means anti-Israel and anti-American governments coming to power. For the time being, these governments may exhibit Islamism as their driving force, but we can safely maintain that their anti-American character will not change even if leftist or nationalist parties ascend to power. This is because the people of the Middle East blame Washington for the situation in the region. The unconditional support lent by US governments to Israel further reinforces this perception.

This is also the reason why Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is regarded as the most respected leader in the Middle East. Opposing US and Israeli policies in the region, Erdoğan has become popular among the people. This policy has incredibly boosted Turkey’s soft power in the area. Celal Bayar, a former Turkish president, had once said, “Turkey will become a little America.”

Given its relations with other countries in the region, we see that his vision is being fulfilled. Turkey is a center of attraction for other regional countries. Turkish TV series are being watched by Turkey’s neighbors, the actors of these series are treated like Hollywood stars and almost every country in the region dreams of becoming like Turkey one day. Its democracy is revving up Turkey’s power. This perception is further sweetening the appeal of democracy in the region.

The US and Israel should prepare themselves for this situation. As democratic regimes multiply in the region, Israel’s isolation will become worse. This is because no Muslim government whose legitimacy relies on popular support can afford to be close to an Israel that insists on maintaining its current policies. Therefore, even if Israel may today be regarded as strong and invincible, it can be argued that time is working against it.

Alternatively, it can be said that talks in Washington cannot lead to any serious outcome, and even if it can, it will not have any significance.

Turkey’s democratic stance managed to pressure Israel into taking a step back on its aggressive policy in Palestine. If Abbas, who commands questionable popular support, signs a peace agreement that entails concessions, this will lead to his own end. If Obama had really wanted to obtain positive and significant results, he should have ensured Turkey’s participation in negotiations. In this way, Ankara could make sure that Hamas’ views could be brought to the table.

It is not realistic to expect that talks between leaders who lack public support will produce peace. Also, it should be realized that failure to secure peace will seriously threaten Israel’s existence in the long run. This will become clearer as democratic principles become entrenched.

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