Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has slammed the government's policy towards Israel, saying a recent UN report defending the Jewish state's blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip dealt a direct blow to the Turkish government, which had tried hard to undermine the blockade.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the CHP, called the blockade of Gaza “cruel and unjust,” but said the UN panel report, released last Friday, gave Israel a valuable opportunity to legitimize itself before the international community.
“The government's foreign policy was aimed at delegitimizing the Gaza blockade and resulted in the UN legitimizing it. Can this be called successful foreign policy?” Kılıçdaroğlu said at a press conference in the province of Aydın on Wednesday. “Turkey lost on all fronts: Its citizens were killed, it lost the legal battle, it lost prestige and it lost in its drive to get the Gaza blockade lifted as it was not lifted but, rather, solidified.”
The UN panel report said Israeli commandos used “excessive and unreasonable” force against passengers of the Mavi Marmara when they raided the vessel in international waters on May 31, 2010. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed on the ship, which was part of an international flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade.
Hours after the report was leaked to the press ahead of its formal announcement, Turkey announced diplomatic and military sanctions against Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats and suspending military agreements. It also said the Gaza blockade was illegal and vowed to seek a review of it by the International Court of Justice.
Kılıçdaroğlu said the UN panel's report was “one of the biggest debacles” in the history of Turkish foreign policy.
He also played down the sanctions against Israel, saying they have no value other than being a face-saving measure for the government inside Turkey because they did not include trade ties. He criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for first announcing that all trade ties with Israel have been suspended on Tuesday, only to be “corrected” by officials at the Prime Ministry that he did not refer to trade ties per se as he meant trade ties as regards the defense industry cooperation with Israel.
Kılıçdaroğlu also lashed out at criticism from some members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) targeting Özdem Sanberk, Turkey's representative on the five-member UN panel for not taking a tougher stance on the panel's work. The CHP leader said the government could have withdrawn Sanberk from the panel in order to prevent the release of such a “pro-Israeli” report. He said Sanberk acted on instructions from the government, but was turned into a “scapegoat” in the end.
Adventurism and heeding the Arab street
Kılıçdaroğlu also accused Prime Minister Erdoğan of “adventurism” in foreign policy and said that although what people in Arab countries think does matter, Turkey cannot build its foreign policy on the basis of what “the Arab street is saying.”
“The Arab street has become a priority for Turkish foreign policy. But foreign policy cannot be built on the priorities of the Arab street,” he said. He also criticized Erdoğan's plans to visit Gaza, questioning “what it will change” and asking whether the prime minister “is trying to cover up the failure of the UN report by [creating] euphoria on the streets of Gaza.”
He also complained of a lack of transparency in the planning of foreign policy and said opposition parties cannot be asked to support the government's policies after they were given no information on the policies that were being planned.
Erdoğan: Kılıçdaroğlu Israel's attorney
Responding to Kılıçdaroğlu's criticism, Erdoğan said the main opposition leader acted like an “attorney for Israel.”
“The leader of the main opposition party should first stop acting like an attorney for Israel and be a spokesman for his own party. He should announce his party's program and explain his party's understanding of foreign policy,” Erdoğan said. “An opposition party that acts like an attorney for Israel cannot practice politics in this country because my nation will never respect such a stance.”