Saturday, January 31, 2009

Further Cracks in Mideast Diplomatic Ice Age

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan gave the following concise depiction of Gaza in his Washington Post interview:

Hamas entered the elections as a political party. If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player, maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won. The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people. On the one hand, we defend democracy and we try our best to keep democracy in the Middle East, but on the other hand we do not respect the outcome of . . . the ballot box. Palestine today is an open-air prison. Hamas, as much as they tried, could not change the situation. Just imagine, you imprison the speaker of a country as well as some ministers of its government and members of its parliament. And then you expect them to sit obediently?

This comment moves Erdogan quite far toward the balanced position of a neutral mediator that I suggested yesterday he lacked. Many questions remain. It is not clear to what extent he can carry Turkey behind him, much less convince Washington to listen, but at least he has now enunciated the situation in terms that are not only clear and accurate but stated concisely enough so that no decision-maker can plausibly claim to be too busy to read them.

Turkish Foreign Minister Babacan seemed to be grasping for a clear Turkish policy in remarks to the press, not very convincingly arguing that President Gul's voicing of support for Abbas a few days ago did not contradict Erdogan's emphasis on considering the situation of Hamas. Babacan described Hamas in markedly cool terms:

There is a Hamas reality in Gaza. We are not in a position to approve what Hamas has done; however, it is not possible to maintain peace by ignoring Hamas.

Saying that "we are not in a position to approve what Hamas has done" in the aftermath of the brutal Israeli onslaught is very different than Erdogan's emphasis on how Hamas was robbed of its legitimate January 2006 electoral victory. Babacan's bottom line seems to have been his voicing of support for "a strong Palestinian leadership." How this can be achieved given the discrediting of Fatah in the aftermath of Israel's attack on Gaza remains to be seen. So far, the one suggestion on the table is Hamas' proposal to create a completely new Palestinian leadership structure to replace the PLO, which would likely put Hamas in charge of all of Palestine. Elsewhere, Qatar has called on Israel to talk directly with Hamas, and the European Union has indicated some support for a unified Palestinian government (i.e., one including Hamas).

A nice Israeli victory indeed.

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