Erdoğan calls on Arab nations to unite, raise the Palestinian flag

  • Tue Sep 13th 2011

Tuesday's Arab League meeting in Cairo rang with a historic call from the Turkish prime minister for the Arab countries and Turkey to close their ranks so tightly that “even daylight shall not pass between,” and the Turkish leader's speech was interrupted by storms of applause from Arab foreign ministers supporting Turkey's call for solidarity in the region.

“We are living through a turning point in history, and we are called upon to cooperate more closely than ever,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday at a gathering of Arab League foreign ministers in Egypt. Speaking at the league's headquarters in Cairo, where he was visiting as part of a three-day tour of Arab countries, Erdoğan called on the Arab countries to strengthen their ties and raise the level of cooperation in the Middle East, as the region is going through a time of rapid transition, which will have a deep impact at the international level.

“It is time for us to take responsibility for our common future,” Erdoğan said, and added, “we are entitled to meet the righteous demands of our people using any legitimate means.” He also warned, in clear reference to those leaders still resisting the Arab Spring, that those who choose to reciprocate the demands of the people with blood would face their demise “if not today, then definitely tomorrow.” Erdoğan further added that it is time for the Arab countries to reunite and reorganize in a way that will bolster cooperation and support amongst each other, at this time when these nations have “developed a better understanding of one another.”

Erdoğan's speech also summarized Turkish foreign policy, at a time when the country is outlining a clear roadmap for its stance toward the Arab Spring nations, as well as Israel, which has recently been facing increased pressure from its own region as well as strategic allies in other parts of the world. Erdoğan repeated Turkey's stance against the Israeli administration's refusal to comply with Turkish demands to make amends in the aftermath of the May 2010 flotilla incident. “While Israeli administration ties to legitimize itself [in terms of its domestic policy], it takes steps that shake its legitimacy in the region,” Erdoğan said, criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu's administration for refusing a rapprochement with Turkey, so as not to fall out with opposition figures in the Israeli coalition. Turkey and Israel were on the brink of reaching an agreement over their diplomatic obstacles when, according to the Turkish side, the Israeli administration withdrew from finalizing an agreement for fear of exacerbating the already hostile mood in Israel's domestic politics.

“The aggression of the Israeli administration has reached levels that threaten the future of the Israeli people,” the Turkish leader said, listing again the recent Turkish sanctions against Israel, which was interrupted with supportive applause by the meeting's participants. He also touched on the Israeli blockade on Gaza, saying the Palestinian-Israeli crisis is an issue “that lies at the heart of the conflict in the region.” Erdoğan also suggested that Israel needs to act “reasonably, responsibly and with respect for human life” before the country will be able to break out of what Erdoğan called its “isolation” in the region. The leader ruled out a normalization of relations between Turkey and Israel, unless Israel complies with the demands Turkey has repeatedly voiced for an apology and compensation for the loss of life during an Israeli aid of a Gaza-bound Turkish humanitarian aid ship last year, and the removal of the Gaza blockade that has long been a core issue of dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Erdoğan also signaled in his speech that the dynamics regarding Israel in the region have reached a point of no return, saying that the “status quo is no longer sustainable,” and reiterating that Turkey will be taking the issue of the Gaza blockade to the International Court of Justice, a move that could seriously cripple Israel's diplomacy with the rest of the world and prove it culpable for past Palestinian damages. He called on the Arab nations to support the recognition of Palestine at the international level, saying “let's all unfurl the Palestinian flag together, and let that flag be the symbol of peace and stability in the region.”

Also, in a tone designed to dispel speculation that Turkey is interested in aiding Libya for financial reasons, Erdoğan clearly stated that he is keenly interested in Libya “not like some, who are motivated by an interest the country's resources, but out of love and respect for our brothers in Libya.” The leader also repeated his country's support for the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya in uniting the diversity of the country and representing different voices under one roof.

“The effects of what happens in this region [the Middle East and North Africa] cannot be contained within the region,” Erdoğan said of the international effects of the Arab Spring and the rapid transformation occurring in some Arab countries. He also explained that Turkey was an avid observer of the developments and very concerned about the uprisings given the “mutual historical ties and timeless brotherhood” between the Arab nations and Turkey. The leader said it is necessary for those countries affected by the Arab Spring to make changes at the “political, economic and social levels immediately,” and warned that “what defines tomorrow is determined by what we do today.” Although he recognized that the road ahead of the Arab countries is a difficult one, he said it is still a road that must be taken in order to achieve greater democracy and rights for the people of the region. Turkey concerned about Syrian civil war

Erdoğan's speech also mentioned Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, as he remarked that Turkish help was welcomed by some, and turned down by others, but that “Turkey would continue to offer friendly advice regardless.” Erdoğan also said that leaders who refuse to listen to their people and meet their demands peacefully will be “held accountable at some point.”

"I fear that matters will end in civil war between the Alawites and the Sunnis," Erdoğan separately told the Al-Shorouk newspaper in an interview that was published on Tuesday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has sent tanks and troops to quell months of protests against his rule, is from the minority Alawite Muslim sect. Most Syrians are Sunni Muslims. Turkey's ties with Syria, a former friend, are near the breaking point as Assad continues to defy Turkish calls to end his bloody crackdown on protesters. In late August, Turkey's President Abdullah Gül said he had lost confidence in Syria and that the situation has reached a point where any changes would be too little too late.

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