Ossie Makepeace writes from Ankara: The US Secretary of State was dispatched by President Obama to talk mediation in Israel and Egypt. That’s how bad the Gaza war has got. Obama has to support Israel but has also to keep up his doubtful role as peace-maker.
But it’s not just magic. Hillary’s come good at this sort of thing and the timing was right because America can still cut the mustard with Israel and Egypt who needed the hi-class go-between act she brought to town.
So, as Ms Clinton arrived, the truce talking over Gaza stuttered as everyone knew it would. The Israelis carried on bombing anyone who was in the way of their bombs and Hamas lost at least half its world public sympathy when it executed five alleged Mossad informers and dragged one of their bodies behind a motorbike.
That is the way of warfare on this scale. Many maimed and worse, so no winners for more than a few moments. It once was, but is no longer, the counting of shrouds that decided the ritual of truce. Hillary arrived when both sides had nowhere to go and Israel had killed enough for the time being and Hamas was running out of rockets and firing options. It’s not peace. It’s a truce. Now truce is nothing but a breather before returning to the full tragedy.
While the truce-makers congregated in the usual scrummage of untutored diplomacy, there remained one onlooker to prove that the consequence of the Gaza war has spread into the region without a shot being fired. The onlooker is Turkey whose leadership during the past half decade has seen itself as an important game-maker in the region but now finds itself sidelined.
Turkey has during this war spoken for what it understandably sensed is Arab opinion.
The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed at the weekend that his administration does not have ‘any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel’. He also said that Israel is a terrorist state and responsible for ethnic cleansing. Arabs love to hear that especially having the comfort that Turkey has not shaken hands with Israel since the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza. Then came the Israeli commando raid on a vessel bound from a Turkish port to Gaza. Turks died.
Not surprising then that Erdogan’s rep is secure although it appears he is too anti-Israel to be of much diplomatic help. This was not what he had intended in spite of the experiences in Turko-Israeli relations during the past four years.
None should doubt his message: we do not talk in the devil’s tongue as the Cambridge Dostoyevskian scholar Edward Sands said.
Such posture (or is really posturing?) does not do well for a straight back ambition to influence neighbours and stand noticeably on a regional and global stage. Such a qualified position as not talking to the Israelis puts Erdogan at a disadvantage if he wants to be respected as a power broker. That’s why his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was on his way to the Arab League meeting on Tuesday hinting that Turkey was back – channelling peace discussions with Israeli officials. Nothing wrong with that – although nothing has come from those channels, as yet.
Turkey has to accept that in this single area, the Egyptians are the lead players. The Egyptian leader Mohamed Mursi may be on a learning curve, but his voice for the moment is the only one that matters. Forget the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas connection. That’s marginal stuff. The reality is that Egypt needs Israel. Israel needs Egypt. They’re neighbours and no one forgets the Yom Kippur War.
It is true that Egypt is the only nation that can talk to both sides. In the end, talking counts and, more realistically, Turkey has to remember that if you need peace then you have to talk to your enemies, not your friends.
Aware of the no-talk conundrum, last week one of Erdogan’s colleagues in the Justice and Development Party reflected that to regain position as a peace maker, it was perhaps time for talks with Israel. However, Erdogan cannot retrace his steps so easily. Furthermore, he has been slow on the Gaza stage. He did go to Cairo, but that was a long-planned economic visit and as much as he tried, Erdogan came home a bit player
For now, Turkey is no game maker in the region, perhaps even less than it was five years back. For the moment, until the next Gaza war starts, that doesn’t matter because there is another side of the story that goes beyond peace making.
Erdogan appears to think that this agreement will be a truce, not peace. It will last as long as one side wants to it before renewing hostilities. Best then to distance himself slightly from the current process and get on with his immediate difficulty, the war in Syria.
There’s diplomatic patching to be done and positions to assume for Mr Erdogan because he wants to be in the lead team in about eighteen months when the Israel-Gaza thing erupts once more. Why then? Because that’s when the Turkish debate on who should be the next President will be at full throttle. So what? Simple, Erdogan the Middle East Game Maker wants the job. Such is the way of ambition and opportunity in the region.