Peace in The Middle East… Can he do it?

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Peace in The Middle East…

Can HE do it?

Does Turkey still have a role?
Presented By:
Arad Nir

Head of Foreign News Desk and Chief International Commentator

Channel 2 News, Israel.

Channel 2 News is the largest news provider in Israel.

App. 2 million viewers watch our bulletin every night.
In my professional capacity I was recruited by an NGO called “Search for Common Ground” to be part of the advisory board of a current project that aims at
Promoting “Common Ground” Print and Broadcast News in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
SCG is an NGO that aims to transform or change the way people are dealing with conflicts from the adversarial approach towards more collaborative problem solving. They use all possible means to reach that.

  • Traditional Conflict Resolution Techniques.

  • Policy forums.

  • Practical Cooperation Projects.

  • Arts and Culture.

  • Sports.

  • Radio and Television – Documentaries - > Soap Operas.

  • Common Ground Journalism.

They operate in 20 countries, all over the world, Cyprus excluded.

But to close this circle I must add that in our project in which we trained a group of Israeli journalists and a group of Palestinian journalists close to their home; the bi-national training was in Cyprus. They met with Cypriot colleagues – from the Greek and Turkish language media and our journalists were very impressed by the Cypriot example, saying they had learnt a great deal from them.
Allow me to proceed now to the actual search for common ground in our region.
Not the NGO but the actual peace process.

In the beginning of September 2010 a euphoric wind blew from Washington towards the Middle East.

Israel’s hard line PM Benyamin Netanyahu stood in line with Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority and said that he came to find “a historic compromise”.

Netanyahu called Abbas “Partner in peace” and President Barak Hussein Obama, Nobel peace laureate I may remind you all, promised to deliver.

In line with his election slogan “Yes We Can” he jumped into these cloudy waters, promised to do all in his power to bring peace to the Middle East.
Some say he is naïve.

Others believe that he desperately needs an achievement before midterm election in order to save the Democrats in the Congress.

And there are those who believe that
Yes! If there is anyone that can – HE (Barak Hussein Obama) can.
This year the month of September is the time of high religious holidays in Israel. Netanyahu came back from Washington into 3 day consecutive Sabbatical in Israel – the Jewish New Year.
And this is what the state of euphoric lasted…
Apparently there is one immediate obstacle to the negotiation

The moratorium imposed on building in the Jewish settlements at the West Bank, which is due to expire on Sunday the 26th.

Ever since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank the international community condemned the construction of Jewish settlements there.

Ever since peace negotiations started Israel was liable to freeze settlement activity. But construction of settlements continued despite all international obligations.

All previous Israeli governments continued to construct the settlements – i.e. The governments of Rabin, Peres, Barak, Sharon, Olmert.
Only Netanyahu totally succumbed to US pressure and 10 month ago declared the moratorium that is due to expire – tomorrow.
The Palestinians say – if building continues, we cannot return to the negotiation table. Members of the Israeli government are saying that there is no way the moratorium can be extended, the Americans impose pressure on Israel to extend it …
And Netanyahu? He is crushed in between.
On the other hand, PM Benyamin Netanyahu, in a Historic move accepted the principle of a Palestinian state.
But he added another factor to the equation, a factor that was never discussed before – he demands that the Palestinians will recognize Israel as the “Jewish State” – Homeland for the Jewish People.
The Palestinians and the Arab League say: “we can never accept this”.
The argument on the moratorium is an excuse.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians use it as a tool.

Netanyahu – to show his internal constrains within his Likud party and within his hawkish government and the Israeli public.
The Palestinians – even though they turned a blind eye in all previous negotiations rounds once the Americans and the international community state and demand that the moratorium should be expanded how can the be less strict?
Nonetheless, the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is much more substantial.
This is a real land mine.
And it is very important to understand what does this demand mean!
There are about 11.8 inhabitants that live in the area that makes Israel and Palestine combined.
1.8 Palestinians live in Gaza

2.5 Palestinians live in the West Bank

(And there are 3m refugees that live out side of these boundaries i.e. – Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, we will leave them out of our discussion now).
7.5 Israelis live within the green line (Israel as accepted by the UN)

1.5 Palestinians that live in the state of Israel – Israeli Arabs.

(Those who did not flee their homes in 1948 – Israel’s Independence, their NAKBA ).
So there are:
Palestinian Palestinians and Israeli Palestinians
Palestinian Palestinians are mostly refugees

Israeli Palestinians are Israeli citizens

While the Palestinians that live in the west bank or in Gaza are mostly stateless – since almost no one recognizes the Hamas regime in Gaza; the Palestinian authority is not a state and the state of Israel gives them no civilian rights what so ever.
The Palestinians that live in the state of Israel are Israeli citizens, they have full rights (at least on paper), and they can elect and be elected.
In the second half of the 20th century the Israeli Palestinians called themselves Israeli Arabs. They felt subordinate to the institutions of the State of Israel; they were part of the Jewish establishment.
Later on, towards the end of the 20th century, the younger generation was not willing to accept the discrimination and a new movement became part of the main stream. They define themselves now as:
“Palestinian Arabs in Israel, the indigenous peoples, the residents (citizens) of the States of Israel, and an integral part of the Palestinian People and the Arab and Muslim and human Nation”.
Some of them try to define themselves as such, others try to assimilate in the Jewish-Israeli society, who is not so willing to accept them – and this is an understatement.
This conflict is so innate in the tissue of the Israeli society that the leading TV channel (Channel 2) is producing a TV drama based on this conflict –
It is about an Arab family, where the father is going out of his way to assimilate in the Jewish society whom he finds much more sophisticated and full of opportunities than the Arab society and his wife is on the opposite side. It is comic-tragic at times and a Palestinian Arab living in Israel or Israeli Arab wrote it.
It is called “Avoda Aravit” – “Arab labor” in Hebrew, which is a derogative term that originated in the old days, when the laborers were mainly Arabs.

Both aspects of this cause concern amongst some Israeli Jews.

In both cases – those who do their best to assimilate, and those who want to pursuit their national identity are considered a

“Fifth Column”.

When the Palestinians and the Arab league adamantly reject Netanyahu’s demand to recognize a the “Jewish state” they do not want to neglect these Israeli Palestinians and in the same time they don’t want to give up the “right of return” for the dislocated refugees.
In recent elections, this fear was used in the most blatant way by a populist politician that suggested to demand a vow of loyalty to the state of Israel or else to deny their citizenship and eventually transfer them into the would be Palestinian state…
This politician is currently a senior member of Netanyahu’s coalition.

He is the Minister of Foreign Affairs – Avigdor Lieberman

He raised the issue again this week and suggested that in the negotiations the issue of the “Israeli Arabs should be discussed”. I remind you that these are Israeli citizens in all criteria!
Liberman’s election campaign slogan was – No loyalty No citizenship, with a lot of success!
He likes this Island very much.

He used to hold big companies here and this issue is under criminal investigation for years now…

He comes here very often, and few years ago he suggested the “Cypriot Model” as his preferred model for solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

He is impressed by the current situation where there is total separation between the two communities (after transfer) and no violence is being employed.

In his blatant way, this is how he sums it up:

“There has been a conflict, they were separated and since then there is quiet”.

This suits his theory just fine because he states firmly his position that there is no way to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. His best-case scenario is “a long-term interim Agreement that will lead to a status quo in which the two sides respect each other and there is no violence”.
The general approach to the current set of negotiation in Israel is mere apathy.

There are no demonstrations to back Netanyahu to compromise.

There are few demonstrations that demand him to step back.

Even the most hawkish members of his cabinet (and believe me there are) adhere to their seats and keep quiet as if nothing is happening.

This is the enigma of the current situation,

An enigma that no one in Israel has solved yet.

The conventional phenomenon of Israeli politics is that:
The liberal left can lead consensus to WAR

The conservative right can lead consensus to PEACE

  • It seems that Netanyahu CAN, the question is weather he WANTS

  • Others will put it to president Obama and ask weather he will adhere the necessary pressure.

In the beginning of this month Time Magazine published a cover story that asked:

Why Israel doesn’t care about Peace .
Many Jewish organizations in America did not like the assumption that was hidden in this title, let alone the article itself. Nonetheless I went to check the lineups in my news organization:

Apart from the 2 days of the summit in Washington the issue of the negotiations did not open the news not even once and the coverage was restricted to 2-3 minutes at the most down the line-up.

If this is an acceptable measurement then they are right ->

Israelis do not care about peace.

Few years ago I read Orhan Pamuk’s book – Istanbul. In this book he makes great effort to describe the Turkish word “Hüzün”.
Hüzün -> Melancholy -> Apathy -> Indifferent.
After so many failures in the negotiation table and the only success being building the separation wall that allegedly brought down terrorism and enabled the economy to flourish Israelis don’t “see” the Palestinians any more. Their only way to recover from this state of Huzun is to ignore them, make the Palestinians transparent.
The consequences of the withdrawal from Gaza, be it the Hamas violently taking the power and constantly attacking Israel, eroded any mutual trust.
In a recent poll published by the daily Yediot Aharonot less then 1/3 trusted that something will come out of the current Obama initiative.

Less the 50% said they are willing to compromise from the west bank.

Nonetheless, this Hüzün, I believe, will make the Israelis accept whatever agreement will be reached IF it will be reached.

Especially if it is reached by a right wing leader.

Meanwhile, the wall that was built in the west bank serves its purpose right. Separation de-facto and apart from the 300,000 Israeli residences of the west banks no one cares what is going on there.
To the south, Gaza is UNDER SIEGE!!! And the Israelis do not care. Even the international community refrains from vociferous comments, except for Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Recep Tayip Erdoğan.
This leads me to Turkey ‘s dynamic role in the region, and I would like to try to analyze what is Turkey’s current role in the region vis-à-vis the Peace Process?
In the winter of the year 2003 I first interviewed Prime Minister Erdoğan.

In this interview he expressed his will to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians and between the Israelis and the Syrians.

“We understand both of you”, he said, “we understand your mentality. We ruled the region for hundreds of years; let us bring peace,” he emphasized.
Ariel Sharon at the time was prime minister and he did not heed.

Sharon said that the only acceptable track is the American and left Erdoğan’s offer unheeded.

Ehud Olmert picked up the glove and Turkish diplomats shuttled between the Israelis and the Syrians, only, my Turkish sources told me at the time, after both Olmert and Barak agreed that the ultimate result would be withdrawal from the Golan heights.
They had few rounds of talks and eventually on the evening of the 24th of December 2008 Olmert met Erdoğan in his official residence in Ankara. Erdoğan was on the phone with president Assad while Olmert was in the room and he transferred messages between the two. Olmert sais that Erdoğan asked him to stay over and to meet the Syrian foreign minister Wallid el Mualem who would come to Ankara the next morning. Olmert decided to go home and promised to come back if there is a real possibility for a tête-à-tête meeting.
Olmert went back home and 3 days later, on Saturday, he started a military assault in Gaza.
Erdoğan was furious and started to criticize Israel in a harsh language.

He was not the only one doing it but he was the loudest.

But Erdoğan took it personally.
The highlight of this was the “One minute” incident between him and President Shimon Peres in Davos.
The mediation process was stopped and Erdoğan’s criticism towards Israel continued out loud. The relationship between the two countries went down a slippery road.

The much Turkey distanced itself from Israel the much it got closer to Syria and Iran.

FM Ahmet Davutoğlu told me bluntly that Israel does not have any privileges in the region any more and the days of unique strategic cooperation are over.
The bilateral relationship deteriorated even more during the Flotilla event in which Israel in a typical foolish behavior jumped with open eyes into a provocation sponsored by Turkish organizations and killed 9 Turkish citizens.
When I was in Istanbul covering the outcome of the flotilla I was asked weather this is the worst crisis between the two countries.

My answer was that never before Israel and Turkey had a blood account.

One of my interviewees told me at the time that in this part of the world you clean blood with blood, I said that now Erdoğan has his own Shahids – Martyrs.
He, who after the Gaza war put himself in the position of the guardian of Hamas in Gaza; because of their unjust suffering and Islamist brotherhood paid in his own people’s blood. He is not a back stage observer any more he is a central player.
Turkey enhanced its relationship with Iran, the cooperation with Syria and the criticism towards Israel.

It came to an extent that during a visit to Spain President Assad called Turkey to soften its tone in order to keep its position as a mediator between him and his Israeli rivals. What Assad understands the Turks do not see, or not willing to admit.

This is not a coincidence that Turkey is absent from this picture that was taken in Washington in September.
Obama started his regional policy in Turkey. He understands its regional potential. But Erdoğan changed the rules of the game.
Israel has lost Turkey as a strategic ally and Turkey has lost its position as an impartial mediator. The feeling amongst Israeli Politicians and diplomats is that there is a two words addition to the Turkish foreign policy principle of “Zero problems with our neighbors”; that is “Zero problems with our neighbors BUT ISRAEL”.

Some claim that it is not mediation that Turkey under AKP rule seeks in the region but Influence, and that it got.

To the dismay of moderate Arab leaders, after the flotilla Erdoğan concurred the Arab street, new borne babies were called by his name and the Turkish flag was displayed all over.
I personally think that if he would have been willing to carry us Israelis with him in that journey into the region we should not have given up the opportunity, BUT

He does not seem to signal that, on the contrary.

I would say that if he still wants to play a constructive role, he could no more be a mediator; nonetheless he can be a moderator.

He can try to moderate the positions of his new allies – Iran, Syria and Hamas.

In view of the title given to this session:

“Shifting balances of powers? What may change in the Eastern Mediterranean?’ I would conclude that:

The vision of a Non Arab alliance in the Middle East is no longer applicable.
It seems that we are witnessing an alignment of the southeastern Mediterranean, where Israel finds itself with the same geopolitical strategic interest as Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, versus a Radical Northen Alliance.
And if anyone finds a parallel between this alliance and the infamous Bush’s axis of evil it is on his own account.

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