Uri Avnery�s assessment of the recent Israeli-Turkish
diplomatic and political row - that �the relationship between Turkey and Israel will
probably return to normal, if not to its former degree of warmth� � seems
sensible and daring. In my view, however, it is also inaccurate.
Simply put, there is just no going back.
In a recent article, entitled �Israel Must Get Used to the
New Turkey,� Suat Kiniklioğlu, deputy chairman of External Affairs for Turkey�s
ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wrote, �Israel appears to be
yearning for the golden 1990s, which were the product of a very specific
situation in the region. Those days are over and are unlikely to come back even
if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) ends up no longer being in
This assessment seems more consistent with reality.
One would agree with Avnery�s optimistic reading of events
if the recent row were caused by just a couple of isolated incidents, for
example, the gutsy public exchange over Gaza between Turkish Prime Minister
Tayyip Erdogan and Israel�s President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum
in late January 2009, or the recent premeditated humiliation of Oguz Celikkol,
Turkish Ambassador to Israel, by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
However, these incidents are anything but isolated. They
reflect a clear and probably irreversible shift in Turkish foreign policy
towards Israel, the US and the Middle East as a whole.
For decades, Turkey was torn between its historical ties to
Muslim and Arab countries on the one hand, and the unstoppable drive towards
Westernization on the other. The latter seemed much more influential in forming
the new Turkish identity in its individual, collective, and thus foreign policy
manifestation and outlook.
But even during the push and pull, Turkey grew in
import as a political and economic player. It also grew into a nation with a
decisive sense of sovereignty, a growing sense of pride and a daring capacity
for asserting itself as a regional power.
In the 1970s, when �political Islam� was on the rise
throughout the region, Turkey was experiencing its own rethink, and various
politicians and groups began grappling with the idea of taking political Islam
to a whole new level.
In fact, it was Dr. Necmettin Erbakan, the prime minister of
Turkey between 1996 and 1997 who began pushing against the conventional notion
as a second-class NATO member desperate to identify with everything Western.
In the late 1980s, Erbakan�s Rafah Party (the Welfare Party)
took Turkey by storm. The party was hardly apologetic about its Islamic roots
and attitude. Its rise to power as a result of the 1995 general elections
raised alarm, as the securely �pro-Western� Turkey was deviating from the very
the rigid script that wrote off the country�s regional role as that of a
�lackey of NATO.� According to Salama A Salama, who coined the phrase in a
recent article in Al-Ahram Weekly, Turkey is no longer this �lackey.�
And according to Kiniklioğlu, that�s something �Israel must get used to.�
The days of Erbakan might be long gone. But the man�s legacy
registered something that never departed Turkish national consciousness. He
pushed the boundary, dared to champion pro-Palestinian policies, defied Western
dictates and even pressed for economic repositioning of his country with the
creation of the Developing Eight (D-8), uniting the most politically
significant Arab and Muslim countries. When Erbakan was forced to step down in
a �postmodernist� military coup, it was understood as the end of short-lived
political experiment which ended up proving that even a benign form of
political Islam was not to be tolerated in Turkey. The army emerged, once
again, all powerful.
But things have changed drastically since then. The Justice
and Development Party (AKP) was elected to power in 2002. The AK Party
leadership was composed of savvy, yet principled politicians who aimed for
change and even a geopolitical shift in their country�s regional political
The AK Party began to lead a self-assertive Turkey which
was neither pleading for European acceptance nor American validation. By
rejecting the use of Turkish territories as a launch pad for a US strike
against Iraq in 2003, Turkey was acquiring a voice, and a strong one at that --
with wide democratic representation and growing popular support.
The trend continued and, in recent years, Turkey dared
translate its political power and prowess into action, without immediately
severing the political and military balances that took years to build. So, for
example, while it continued to honor past military deals with Israel, it also
made many successful overtures to Syria and Iran. And, in
being willing to be seen as a unifier in the age of Muslim and Arab disunity,
it refused to take part in the conveniently set up camps of �moderates� and
�extremists.� Instead, it maintained good ties with all its neighbors, and its
Starting in 2007, the US began seeing the emergence of
the �New Turkey.� US President Barack Obama�s visit to the country soon after
his inauguration was one of many signs that the West was taking notice of Turkey�s
�special� status. Turkey
is not to be bullied, threatened, or intimidated. Even Israel, which
has for long defied the norms of diplomacy, is now becoming more aware of its
limits, thanks to Turkish President Abdullah G�l. Following Israel�s
belligerent insult of the Turkish ambassador, he said, �Unless there is a
formal apology from Israel,
we�re going to put Celikkol on the first plane back to Ankara.� Israel, of course, apologized, and
It took Turkey
many years to reach this level of confidence and the country is hardly eager to
be anyone�s �lackey� now. Moreover, Turkey�s united and constant stance in
support of Gaza, and its outspokenness against the threats against Lebanon,
Iran and Syria show clearly that the old days of �warmth� are well behind us.
Turkey, of course, will find a very receptive audience among
Arabs and Muslims all over the world who are desperate for a powerful and
sensible leadership to defend and champion their causes. Needless to say, for
the besieged Palestinians in Gaza,
Erdogan is becoming a household name, a folk hero, a new Nasser in fact. The
same sentiment is shared throughout the region.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is
an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is �My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza�s Untold Story� (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.