Surprises in Ankara

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It was surprising to see that Turkey received two high Israeli officials in less than a month. More surprising still were the type of people and the subjects discussed, since the two concerned were none other than the minister of defence, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and the Israeli army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz.

At a time when Israeli officials are finding it difficult to visit even some European capitals, Ankara was ready to receive the two figures in Israel most responsible for oppressing the Intifada and applying the most violent retaliatory measures. Such moves by the Turkish government puzzled many. One would not have expected Turkey to support the Palestinians against Israel, but to at least play a positive role in bringing the two sides together. This is deemed possible due to the fact that Turkey is qualified to play that role through its old relations with both the Arabs and Israel.

Turkey, along with the Arab world, is part of the nation of Islam, yet it maintained a strong relationship with Israel since its foundation on Palestinian soil. It is true that relations between the Turks and the Arabs were not the best (thanks to the British then), as they were colonial ties. It is also true that the Arabs gained independence at the beginning of the 20th century, though that was not due only to their struggle for independence but also to the very weak state the Turkish empire was in then.

Elements of dispute increased in time, from conflicting national feelings to issues like the Iskenderun region, the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, and later the Kurds. As a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc and its support to countries like Syria and Iraq, Turkey, which was a strong base for the Western powers, would achieve better relations with the Arab world. The tremendous industrial and tourist development in Turkey over the last two decades was also supposed to improve relations between Turkey and the Arab world, with the former intent on finding markets for its products in the latter.

More interaction and dialogue between the two nations increased lately to the level that made us believe that old hard feelings were gone and buried forever. So what made the Turkish government receive the top Israeli security figures in Ankara? Was it really the arms deal that led to this? If so, why at this point in time?

It is known that Turkish-Israeli relations were warm at all times despite the Arabs’ trying to attract Turkey closer to their side. And the blame should not be put squarely on the Turks, as Arabs have also neglected Turkey as a major player in the politics of the region and sought the West’s help. This was a shortsighted move on our part, as, even in the era of globalisation, we don’t seem to recognise that economics play a major role in determining relations between nations.

Slogans of Islamic or Arab solidarity do not mean much these days and Turkey is giving us a lesson in that. And we cannot count on friendly nations to remain loyal to us at all times and costs. The Turkish move might and will draw feelings of hatred and resentment; however, it should tell us that we are not doing things right. Jordan should take the lead in opening dialogue with the Turks in all fields. We cannot dictate to the Turks who to receive, but we can at least ask them to play a positive role in the relationship between Arabs and Israel. Such efforts might make the Israelis change their policy of violence and destruction and engage in peace talks that would lead to a final and just settlement.

Arabs are bound to witness more surprises from Peking, New Delhi and many other capitals of the world if they don’t react and take action.

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