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Turkish President Tells Bibi: Time for You to Adapt to a New Political Climate

Since Israel’s Occupation is the “root cause” of unrest in the region, Turkey wants Israel to act now to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.  And he expects the US to be a helpful partner in dealing with that “root cause” of unrest.

By James Wall

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul  has stern words of advice for Bibi Netanyahu. He told Israel’s Prime Minister that the Arab revolution in the Middle East is aimed directly at the state of Israel.

The advice came in a New York Times column by President Gul:

The wave of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa is of historic significance equal to that of the revolutions of 1848 and 1989 in Europe. The peoples of the region, without exception, revolted not only in the name of universal values but also to regain their long-suppressed national pride and dignity.

But whether these uprisings lead to democracy and peace or to tyranny and conflict will depend on forging a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a broader Israeli-Arab peace.

The plight of the Palestinians has been a root cause of unrest and conflict in the region and is being used as a pretext for extremism in other corners of the world. Israel, more than any other country, will need to adapt to the new political climate in the region.

But it need not fear; the emergence of a democratic neighborhood around Israel is the ultimate assurance of the country’s security.

A Muslim president of a predominantly Muslim nation, Gul also has advice for the President of the United States:

Moreover, it is my firm conviction that the United States has a long-overdue responsibility to side with international law and fairness when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The international community wants the United States to act as an impartial and effective mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, just as it did a decade ago. Securing a lasting peace in the Middle East is the greatest favor Washington can do for Israel.

Since Israel’s Occupation is the “root cause” of unrest in the region, Turkey wants Israel to act now to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.  And he expects the US to be a helpful partner in dealing with that “root cause” of unrest.

No historical parallel is ever exact. But parallels from history are very much in Gul’s thinking.

The 1848 revolution in Europe, which began with the French Revolution, spread across Europe, taking different forms and moving at different speeds. In 1989, the uprisings in Europe began with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The current Arab uprising began in Tunisia and Egypt.  Now it has erupted in Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. As was the case in both 1848 and 1989, the 2011 uprising is having, and will continue to have, mixed results and follow different paths.

The Syrian military, for example, was reported on Saturday to have killed more than 120 protestors, bringing harsh criticism from the US amid increased suppression by Syian authorities. In contrast, the president of Yemen agreed, under certain conditions, to step down following weeks of street protests.  A New York Times story from Cairo reported:

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, agreed on Saturday to leave power after 32 years of autocratic rule, according to a top Yemeni official, but only if the opposition agrees to a list of conditions, including that he and his family be granted immunity.


Opposition leaders said they were prepared to accept most of the terms of the deal, which both they and a Yemeni official said would establish a coalition government with members of the opposition and ruling party. The president would turn over authority to the vice president.

Bruce Riedel, a former longtime CIA officer and now a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, wrote an analysis on the end of the police state in the Middle East, for The Daily Beast:

The revolutions that are sweeping across the Arab world this spring have many different causes and each will have its own outcome, but they all have one thing in common: Arabs are demanding the end of the police-state system that has misruled them for over a half century. They want freedom and accountability.

The U.S. was a big stakeholder in the police-state system, known in Arabia as the mukhabarat states (the Arabic word for secret police), but it now needs to help build legitimate accountable governments.

The Palestinian Authority has chosen its own method by which to revolt against the Israeli mukhabarat. The PA administers a people, but not as a state. The method it has chosen is to create a state governmental structure in anticipation of future statehood.

Support for a Palestinian state has swept through the member states in the United Nations General Assembly, the world body which will vote in September on whether to admit Palestine into the UN.

The Obama White House appears to be divided on how the US should proceed to cope with the impending UN vote. The New York Times Helene Cooper describes the internal US divide as “bizarre”.  For three months, she writes, White House officials have discussed the important question: Who should go first with a peace proposal: Bibi or Barack?

Apparently, according to Cooper, the President and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believe it “the time has come for Mr. Obama to make a major address on the region’s turmoil, including the upheaval in the Arab world.”  Obama and Clinton appear to favor an Obama speech that would “propose a new plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians”.

That option is “opposed by Dennis B. Ross, the president’s senior adviser on the Middle East.” Ross is known to be close to AIPAC (The Israel Lobby), and is also close to Bibi Netanyahu, who continues to favor “negotiations” to resolve the future status of a Palestinian state.

Republicans in the US Congress have invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak to the combined House and Senate membership during the week of May 22, when the Prime Minister will be in Washington to address the annual gathering of AIPAC.  He has accepted, which has caused consternation in the White House.

In speaking before friendly audiences in both the AIPAC Policy Conference and the US Congress, Netanyahu is expected to adopt a reconciling tone. At the same time, he will no doubt stick to the Israeli hard line position that the only acceptable track to Israel is the one which would resolve Israel’s differences with the Palestinians through “negotiations” between the two parties.

The trouble with the “negotiation” track is that the Palestinians have long known that “to negotiate” with Israel, is futile. The warden does not negotiate with his prisoners, except, possibly, to improve their cuisine.

Ross is supported in endorsing the “negotiations” track by former White House official Aaron David Miller. Now out of the White House and nestled inside the warmth of a Washington NGO, where he can speak more candidly, Miller wrote in the Washington Post:

In almost two decades of working on Arab-Israeli negotiations as a State Department adviser and negotiator, I’ve come up with more than my fair share of dumb ideas. But the notion Palestinians are cooking up, for U.N. action on Palestinian statehood this fall, takes dumb to a new level.

Yet another resolution won’t deliver Palestinians a state or even bring them closer to one. The result will be the opposite of what the Palestinians want: forcing the United States to oppose Palestinians’ efforts, energizing Congress to restrict much-needed assistance to Palestinian institution-building, and probably prompting Israel to do very real (and dumb) things on the ground.

The “who speaks first” debate will be an interesting one to follow. Ross and Miller are staff level operatives but they carry Bibi’s water for him, which means that they also speak for AIPAC.

Meanwhile, while the debate rages over how best to deal with the US favored ally in the Middle East, President Obama announced that he would be sending drones into Libya.

What is a drone? The picture at right is that of a MQ-1B Predator unmanned aircraft system, called “a drone” for short. The MQ-18 is shown taking off for a training mission at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

Drones are sent to targeted areas halfway around the world. They receive their flying instructions from Air Force personnel sitting at computers at Creech.

On Holy Thursday, April 9, 2009, Catholic priest, peace activist, lecturer and author John Dear, and 12 of his colleagues, were arrested for trespassing while praying, on the grounds of Creech Air Force Base in a protest action against the use of drones.

Kathy Kelly, who is from Chicago, is well known as an anti-war protestor for her many years of activism in war zones. She was among the Creech 13.  For more on the work of Father John Dear, click here.

Two years later, on Holy Thursday, April 21, 2011, the 13 were found guilty of trespassing. In a posting he wrote for Truthout,  Dear explains what inspired the group to go to the Nevada base.

My friends and I have tried every legal means possible to stop our government from its terrorist, drone bombing attacks on civilians in Afghanistan, and so we journeyed to the drone headquarters at Creech AFB near Las Vegas on Holy Thursday to kneel in prayer and beg for an end to the bombings. This nonviolent intervention is determined to be criminal – not the regular drone bombing attacks on children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The guilty verdict was handed down as President Obama was authorizing the US Air Force to expand drone attacks into Libya.

How sensitive to civilian casualties has drone warfare been in Pakistan? The New York Times reported on Good Friday:

An American drone attack killed 23 people in North Waziristan on Friday, Pakistani military officials said, a strike against militants that appeared to signify unyielding pressure by the United States on Pakistan’s military amid increasing public and private opposition to such strikes. (emphasis added).

Further down in the story, the Times adds that among those 23 people were women and children.

Why is Obama using drones in Libya “amid increasing public and private opposition to such strikes”?

When President Obama organized the NATO air strikes to help the Libyan rebels, he cited “humanitarian grounds”. He had support from the “humanitarians” in his administration, and in the progressive media, most notably, the highly respected, Middle Eastern scholar Juan Cole.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that in any military action, the goal is to kill “the enemy”. The use of drones guarantees that many of those deaths will be civilians.

Many Americans do not like the fact that the US is now engaged in three armed conflicts against Arab states. The protestors who were arrested at Creech AFB are part of what should become a growing tide of resentment against President Obama for his failure to take action to alleviate, in President Gul’s words, “the plight of the Palestinians”, which is the “root cause of unrest and conflict in the region”.

Before Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to Washington in May to be cheered by his friends and supporters in AIPAC and in the US Congress, President Obama should say to his Israeli counterpart, “You are running a democratic government. It is time for you to lead that government to recognize the wisdom in President Gul’s call for you to forge ‘a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a broader Israeli-Arab peace’.”

He should also tell Netanyahu that Israel’s present treatment of the Palestinian people is harmful not only to the Palestinians, but also to Israel and to the US.

Obama should also remind Netanyahu of the closing words of encouragement, warning and admonition, that President Gul delivered to Israel:

It will be almost impossible for Israel to deal with the emerging democratic and demographic currents in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey, conscious of its own responsibility, stands ready to help.

[The picture at top is of Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul. It is from Getty Images. The picture of Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is from the web site, Top News In Law. The picture of the drone is by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr., US Air Force.]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: JAMES WALL is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois.  From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine.  He has made more than 20 trips to that region as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. He has interviewed, and written about, journalists, religious leaders, political leaders and private citizens in the region.  Jim served for two years on active duty in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF (inactive) reserve. Jim launched his new personal blog Wallwritings, on April 24, 2008. He can be reached at:  [email protected]

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