Civil society was engaged in a legitimate action in order to both condemn the illegal Gaza blockade and provide urgent humanitarian aid. The attacks on the humanitarian and unarmed fleet are clearly in violation of international humanitarian law. I fully side with this initiative aiming to put an end to the economic, social and political isolation of 1.5 million people. I could have participated in this movement, as I succeeded in entering Gaza in January 2009 with some other colleagues in order to fight the censorship and to bring a testimony of the living conditions in Gaza as well as the consequences of the illegal incursion of the Israeli Army during the “Plombs Durcis” operation.
Why did Israel suppress a purely peaceful initiative using such violent methods? Is it a pure coincidence that this bloodbath targeted the Turkish vessel? What consequences will this action have in terms of Turkish-Israeli relations and on the peace process in the region? What will its effects be on Turkish foreign policy, its position on the East-West axis and its EU membership process? What should society in Europe and the world do? Such questions are being asked not only in Turkey, but also in Europe, and they are currently debated heatedly in society. Let me address these questions one by one and start with the first two questions that are most debated.
The world and even the Israeli public are having a hard time making sense of this military operation, which proved to be disastrous. For this reason, a number of scenarios, simple or sophisticated, are circulating, ranging from those suggesting that Israel was “stupid” enough to launch the attack to those arguing its actual aim was to torpedo the Turkish-Brazilian initiative and deliberately try to show that Turkey sides with Hamas. What the technical data, the manner and timing of the “military landing” tell us is that it was obviously not conducted to tell the ships, “Please change your course,” contrary to the claims of the Israeli Army. No one would send the commandos, who are trained to kill, at four o’clock in the morning just to deliver this message. According to the data at hand, those who managed the “landing” did not expect any resistance to the operation, which they thought would be performed smoothly and without a problem. The politicians who gave this task to the soldiers might not have planned for this outcome, but they apparently did not give any thought to how to prevent it if it occurred. The soldiers assigned to this task were not the police officers who were experienced in protests, but soldiers who were trained to kill when faced with a problem. So they did not retreat in order to come back later, which gave rise to this disastrous outcome.
Neither profound nor sophisticated
In other words, you cannot find a profound or a sophisticated strategy behind this attack, but rather the usual method Israel has been applying against Palestinians, this time being employed against hundreds of people who were reaching out for peace. Thus the world had a chance to closely witness this method -- with which Israel has been murdering men, women and children, civilians, indiscriminately for decades -- being applied to its own citizens who are not “terrorists” by any measure. Peace will not come, unfortunately, if this mood that haunts Israel, urging it to perceive Palestinians as terrorists or potential terrorists, does not change. The Iranian dimension of the matter does not have much connection to what happened aboard the ships, even if Israel’s perception of Turkey has recently changed within this context. I will come back to this issue, but I would like to focus on Israeli-Turkish relations and the Palestinian issue.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s characterization of the incident as Turkey’s 9/11 is enough to shed light on its importance and severity in terms of Turkish-Israeli relations, though his description may sound like an over-dramatization to many ears. The fact that 14,000 Israeli citizens canceled their holidays in Turkey on the day of the incident indicates that Israel has lost a friendly regional country several hundred kilometers away from itself. Turkish-Israeli ties will hardly be as they were in the past without peace in Palestine. Indeed, the Palestine issue is no longer a government policy, but has become an issue of Turkey’s domestic politics. The issue is not of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), but is closely related to Turkey’s regional policy and the sensitivities of its public. If only European and world public opinion could focus on the Palestinian issue and could contribute to the peace in the region. In this context, it is heartening to see that the United Nations Security Council condemned the incident with support from the United States thanks to Turkish diplomatic lobbying, even if I would have preferred an inquiry to explicitly be international, since we know that impartial inquiry and Israel are contradictory terms.
Basically, this incident is the natural result of Turkey’s “zero problems” and peace policy in the region, and sheds light on the deep-running contradictions and tensions between Turkey and Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. Ten years ago, there were not as many people sensitive to the Palestinian issue as there are today in Turkey, and also, past governments would not allow such peace initiatives and the current problems and tensions would not be seen. This was because Turkey did not have an active and productive foreign policy with respect to the Palestinian issue, as was the case with many other issues. Turkey believes that peace in Palestine is vital for its own economy and for peace in the region, and exerts pressure to make this happen. Turkey sees Israel, which insists on maintaining an occupation and suppression policy in Palestine, as the biggest obstacle to peace. Actually, this fact was once again exposed to the general public’s attention with the latest Gaza offensive that cost the lives of 1,500 people, most of whom were civilians. This assessment is increasingly accepted by the European general public. Therefore it can be said that the tension between Turkey and Israel stems from the two countries’ radically different policies for the region: one seeking peace, and the other war. This contradiction is also visible as regards the Iranian issue, which represents a fundamental problem between Israel and Turkey. In Israel, there is a coalition government that believes in the necessity of military sanctions against Iran. It can even be asserted that the only issue on which Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman agree, although they all represent different political discourses, is the Iranian policy. While this coalition argues that military sanctions must be imposed on Iran, Turkey is struggling to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear weapons issue and to prevent Bush’s Iraq policy -- which proved disastrous in all aspects -- from being implemented with respect to Iran.
Essentially, Turkey and Israel do not think much differently with respect to Iran and nuclear weapons. What differentiates the two countries is the “method” to be employed in preventing nuclear armament. Israel believes that Iran wants to have nuclear technology for military purposes, not as a source of energy. While this view cannot be considered as altogether wrong, the military method will not bring about a solution but poses a threat to peace in the region and has the potential to breed new problems. As uneasy as Israel is about a nuclear Iran, Turkey is seeking the solution in diplomacy and embargo policies, as it did with Brazil. I must say that I believe that these two countries have created a significant opportunity for peace that must not be wasted. The EU must do everything in its power to optimize the political potential of such an agreement, being the only existing initiative in favor of dialogue and peace.
From the Israeli perspective, the Turkish-Brazilian initiative not only renders the Israeli coalition government’s Iran policy impossible, but also detonates, in a sense, the very raison d’être of this coalition. Therefore the Turkish-Israeli tension of recent months is the natural culmination of these divergent policies. As for our last question: Is there a shift of axis in Turkey? Or, where does the EU stand?
The EU, Iran and Palestine
Essentially, what the EU is pondering silently about the Iranian and Palestinian issues is being implemented actively and vocally by Turkey. This is the view shared not only by the European general public, but also by the EU officials who carry out Turkish policy in the EU’s capitals and in Brussels. Turkey is a major driver for potential peace in Palestine. Brussels can do nothing but jealously watch the peace policy Turkey maintains in the region. It is no coincidence that there were people aboard the ships from more than 40 countries and that the EU press has been fixing their attention on the issue for days. Because of this incident, the Palestinian issue has become a major agenda item for the EU.
I fully support the Turkish strategy toward the international community in order to put an end to Israeli impunity and to the Gaza blockade and finally, to push forward a UN General Assembly declaration recognizing the Palestinian State.
With this policy, Turkey is not steering away from the EU or the West. With this new foreign policy, Turkey is exhibiting an effective foreign policy that cherishes our common values. The alternative to this policy is to remain silent to the inhumane policy applied to Palestinians and to go on with Bush’s Iraq policy. This policy, glorified by Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman, has failed, and lost the support of Europe and even of the US. I advise readers to closely scrutinize the position of the journalists who suggest an axis shift for Turkey as well as the policies they advocate. They will realize that this “axis shift” thesis, which is not popular in the EU, is in the arsenal of certain groups in the US and the zealous proponents of Bush’s Iraq policy.
My only expectation from Turkey is that it should implement a similar peace policy on the domestic political front and realize its “initiative” and democratization projects. A democratic Turkey which is a factor of stability in its region and which has attained its internal peace will be a great asset as a member of the EU.
*Hélène Flautre is the co-chairperson of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee.