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Why is PM’s Gaza rhetoric problematic?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s obvious attitude in his statements regarding Israel’s attacks on Gaza has become one of the most criticized topics of his foreign policy during his tenure. It is apparent that this attitude will be a key reference in view of Turkey’s foreign politics in the new period, the shaping of beliefs therein and the perception of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in the world.

So what is the attitude presented by Erdoğan? Erdoğan expresses a very true reaction in his statements opposing Israel’s inexcusable use of power and targeting without making any distinction even for civilians. Nobody would object to this.

Similarly, the prime minister appears before us as a leader who feels indignant toward international ignorance of Israel’s indistinctive use of power. Erdoğan’s perception of the world has been affected especially by the lack of reaction and international mobilization in Gaza compared to whatever seen in Georgia. He wails for this contradiction and he is right in this matter. He even asked on Jan. 11, "In view of the international attitude, I appeal to all countries. Should it persist? What obligation do you have that keeps you so quiet?"

In truth, nobody criticizes Erdoğan for his reaction toward Israel and the international community. The criticism is more so directed toward the expression of his reaction and the language he chooses rather than toward the reaction itself. Besides, the words, points and warnings he left out need to be analyzed. An analysis needs to be conducted followed by questions regarding a deeper evaluation of politics. If we examine under a magnifying glass all the prime minister’s statements, about this subject and manner, since the beginning of the Gaza attacks last December we encounter the following picture:

Silence in view of Hamas missiles
The most vulnerable aspect of the prime minister’s speeches during this time period is that he has not sent a powerful warning message to Hamas. Palestinians experienced the biggest unjust treatment in this human tragedy but the fact is Hamas attacked southern Israel with approximately 500 missiles. However, Erdoğan avoids referring to this fact and on the contrary brings forward the possibility that Hamas might not have sent these missiles. He mentions on Jan. 18 that, "responsibility for these fired missiles might not only be entirely for the Hamas but that independent Palestinian groups could also have fired these missiles." What needs to be underlined here is that criticism from the prime minister regarding Hamas’ missile attacks is quite rare. There is only one record, on Jan. 6, of him saying, "OK, Hamas might be at fault. But we cannot exhibit barbarity through mistakes."

One situation parallel to the above assessment we face is the prime minister’s silence in respect to the lack of established distance between Hamas’s terror and Erdoğan. The United States and the European Union characterizes Hamas as a terror organization. If we examine the prime minister’s declarations carefully we do not come across proof of Hamas using the task of terror. Because of lack of this proof he does not express an expectation of ceasing the task. Whereas, if you read the statement of Foreign Minister Ali Babacan in Fikret Bila’s article today you’ll notice the minister saying, "Hamas needs to make a decision as to whether it wants to be an armed organization or a political movement. Our advice is to take part in a political movement." You might speak of an important difference between the attitude of the prime minister and that of the foreign minister.

One other problematic side of the prime minister’s statements is that he has estranged Turkey from its conservative politics by not seeing any need for following balanced politics between Hamas and Al Fatah. A few times he appealed to supporters of Palestine for reconciliation but his attention usually was directed toward Hamas. The prime minister in one of his statements implied that Israel and Al Fatah are cooperating in convicting certain Hamas members and took a stand toward the president of the Palestinian Authority Abbas by saying on Jan. 19, "We did not conduct elections in order to please Abbas. He and the world will have to bear the consequences É" This attitude was no doubt very different from Abdullah Gül’s attitude who said, after his conversation with Abbas last Friday, "Unity, cooperation and reconciliation need to be provided among Palestinians under Abbas’s leadership."

Coherence problems in UN resolutions
Erdoğan’s most annoying attitude with respect to Turkey is frequent references to U.N. Security Council resolutions, stressing their importance and criticizing Israel in just this point. There are also resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council regarding Cyprus that call for Turkey "stopping occupation of the island" but Turkey does not carry out these decisionsÉ A prime minister of a country that does itself not comply with resolutions by the Security Council creates a contradictory situation in respect to Turkey by blaming Israel in view of other decisions by the Security Council.

One other problematic attitude exhibited by the prime minister is his use of general language without making a distinction between the Israeli administration and Israeli people, or more generally said no distinction between the Israeli administration and all Jews around the world when it comes to Gaza attacks. The most striking example is present in the Jan. 7 group meeting. By saying, "We are speaking as the grandchildren of the Ottoman’s who entertained you on our lands when your grandfathers and ancestors where kicked out" he was very careless in degrading Jews who are equally citizens of the Turkish Republic "as visitors." A gesture and good deed calling to mind 500 years later in connection with a crises is not in accord with the maturity of a country like Turkey.

He identifies with Hamas
The most critical point in understanding Erdoğan’s viewpoint toward Hamas is his establishment of a parallel between the situation of Hamas and the situation of the AKP that resulted from the elections in 2002. When talking about Hamas, his words "As we won elections they said ’a politician who has done municipality work cannot lead Turkey’ but it did not happen the way they said," openly show that in his subconscious mind he identifies his party with Hamas.It is possible to expand this breakdown further but all these examples show that Erdoğan has notably become estranged to balanced and rational foreign politics regarding the Gaza crises.