What was John Kerry thinking when he asked Turkey’s viscerally anti-Israel and
anti-Jewish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to be “a partner” in brokering
peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Does he honestly think Hamas’ loyal
and enthusiastic supporter, a man who has called Zionism a crime against
humanity, could be an honest broker? The State Department spokeswoman confirmed
a Turkish newspaper report that Kerry wants Erdogan to play an active role in
the peace process, and said Kerry asked Turkey to use its “significant influence
with the Palestinians” to encourage Hamas to accept the demands of the
That means persuading his friend Khaled Mashaal,
Hamas’ leader, to do everything he and his organization have sworn they never
would do: recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce armed struggle and abide
by all Israeli- Palestinian agreements.
Most NATO and European countries
– except Turkey – consider Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza strip in a
bloody 2007 coup, a terrorist organization.
Erdogan’s inclusion is bad
news for Egypt, Fatah and Israel. Egypt resents Turkey moving on to its turf.
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak felt he had a monopoly as the regional
intermediary and told Erdogan to keep his hands off; his successor, Mohamed
Morsi, apparently feels that way as well, plus now it’s an Islamist as well as
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas knows
Erdogan is a close ally of arch-rival Hamas and hostile to the secular
nationalist Fatah. If anything, Erdogan is more radical than Abbas, and that’s
the last thing the PA leader needs. Relations between the two men are said to be
cool at best. Abbas also knows Hamas wants to overthrow him and take over not
only the PA but control of the PLO as well.
There are few people who
Israelis distrust more than Erdogan. Bringing him in is no way to win their
Two senior cabinet ministers have already rejected any
suggestion of a Turkish role, recalling Israel’s unhappy experience with Erdogan
in 2008 when he tried to mediate with Syria, then his close ally, and acted more
like Bashar Assad’s advocate.
It has been suggested that a more
appropriate mediator would be King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is on good terms
with both the Israelis and Palestinians. He is scheduled to visit President
Barack Obama later this month and is said to be eager to play a role in any
One reason for Kerry’s unexpected stop in Ankara on his
second trip to the region in two weeks was concern that Turkey was backtracking
on its promise to normalize relations with Israel following Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan in connection with the Mavi Marmara
flotilla incident that led to a rupture in relations between the two former
Kerry told Turkish leaders he’d like Ankara to make good on its
promise to quickly reach agreement on compensation and return its ambassador to
Israel, but new Turkish demands and Erdogan’s triumphalist boasting have raised
doubts in Jerusalem and Washington about Turkish intentions.
setback is Turkish insistence that “all of the embargoes should be eliminated
once and for all,” meaning Israel’s blockade of Gaza, before diplomats can be
exchanged, although that was not part of the reconciliation brokered by
President Obama. In his press conference with Kerry Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu repeatedly called for Israel “going back to 1967
Speaking of borders, Abbas has a new precondition for resuming
negotiations with Israel. He is demanding Netanyahu announce acceptance of the
1967 lines as the basis for negotiations and present a map detailing Israel’s
position on borders. Israel objects, saying that would give away its bargaining
position and provide the Palestinian with a starting point for negotiations.
Besides, Israel’s positions would depend on what kind of state is agreed to, the
extent of demilitarization, security arrangements, the Arab uprisings in the
region and other factors.
The demand for the map came with a threat. “If
Kerry fails” to get Israel to hand it over in approximately two months, “we will
start moving toward the international organizations” and file complaints against
Israel in the International Criminal Court, said Palestinian Foreign Affairs
Minister Riad al-Maliki.
And if Israel does all Abbas demands, would he
resume negotiations? Maybe, said his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Meeting
those terms “could lead to an immediate resumption of talks.”
the Globe and Mail this week, “I think there was some opportunities [for peace]
in the past, but unfortunately we missed these opportunities.”
complained that time is running out for a two-state solution yet he continues to
refuse to resume negotiations.
Instead he keeps upping the ante by adding
new preconditions for talks. Now it is the map, before that it was the release
of prisoners and before that a total construction freeze beyond the 1967 lines,
including in east Jerusalem.
The logical conclusion is that he simply
He may talk about peace but he keeps finding excuses
not to talk.
President Obama has told Abbas, and Kerry repeated the
message this week, that Washington backs Netanyahu’s call for resuming talks
without any preconditions.
Critics say Netanyahu, who has failed to
contradict key ministers who openly oppose the two-state solution and keeps
expanding settlements, isn’t any more interested in returning to the peace table
than Abbas, but Palestinians are clearly afraid to call his bluff.
would reportedly like to revive and revise the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which
Israel rejected at the time and the Arabs did nothing serious to convince them
otherwise. Much has changed in the region over the past decade, and Kerry’s
challenge will be to convince all sides they will need to show much greater
flexibility if they are serious about doing more than missing
The big question is whether the United States is the only
one that wants peace badly enough to devote more than empty rhetoric to the
cause. Despite the flurry of diplomacy at Foggy Bottom, it’s far from clear
whether the Israelis and Palestinians themselves are ready to work with the new
secretary of state.©2013 Douglas M. Bloomfield