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BURAK BEKDİL > Brothers (not-so-much) in arms

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Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu must have been too busy isolating (now) Russia and China (after Israel) to notice that his favorite brothers in the Middle East, the Palestinians, recently sounded an alarm when they found out that they were incapable of paying June salaries to 160,000 employees on time. 

The shortfall was considered the biggest crisis in Palestinian history, and the authorities said they heavily relied on the availability of Arab and international aid. It is bizarre that Ankara did not pay any attention to the Palestinian cry. Which other nation in recent history has been the loudest supporter of the “Palestinian cause?” Where are the Turkish brothers of our Palestinian brothers? Some facts and figures I recently came across might shed light on the situation. 

In the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara tragedy, Mr. Davutoğlu said this was “Turkey’s 9/11,” that more Turkish-led flotillas would be on their way to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, that Turkish military planes and ships would protect these “aid vessels” and that Israel would eventually be entirely isolated. 

That challenge was followed by numerous other promises for every manner of possible Turkish aid for our Palestinian brothers, including a revelation that Minister Davutoğlu was dreaming about “praying at the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Palestinian capital Jerusalem.” Naturally, all that made Mr. Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan heroes in the Palestinian lands – for some time.

Two years later, the Palestinians may be feeling differently. A Palestinian friend who lives in a European capital and has never hidden his admiration for his nation’s greatest Turkish saviors now thinks that the Turks used the Palestinians in an Orientalist power game. “We’ve been deceived by many nations, and now, once again, by the Turks,” he wrote to me recently. I replied that I was not the right person to contact and gave him Minister Davutoğlu’s office number. 

Facts and figures... Yes. Every new day we hear from the prime minister that “we are the world’s 17th – and sometimes 16th – biggest economy and we are running fast to become one of the top 10.” Yet, at an international donors’ conference for Gaza in March 2009, the Turkish pledges stood at a mere $93 million (no typo here, ninety-three million dollars). That pledge accounted for only 2.1 percent of all international (mostly Christian!) pledges made at that conference which totaled $4.257 billion. But there is more.

If you examine the source country data of all 216 approved projects in the Gaza Strip, you will see a breakdown that is not really proportional to the Turkish extravaganza of boasting one of the world’s biggest economies as well as its brotherhood with Palestine. Of those 216 projects, 180 are run by international aid organizations, three by the World Bank, three by the Red Crescent, 13 by Germany, two by France, and one by each of Belgium, Egypt, Holland and Sweden. Turkish projects? None. Zero.
 
Ah, but there once was one. In the late 2000s, a Turkish business organization, TOBB, launched an “industry for peace” project which would have built an organized industrial zone in Jenin and created 5,000 jobs. In 2009, a memorandum of understanding was signed, with all the dignitaries smiling in Kodak-moment happy pictures. Another signature ceremony in 2010 and a pledge to build a similar industrial zone in Gaza followed. More Kodak-moment happy faces. The most recent news on the Jenin project appeared a few months ago when a Turkish official briefed Palestinian journalists on “the latest developments.” We journalists have the immediate reflex to know that this simply means there is no real progress to speak of. 

And, by the way, any ideas about the Turkish-Palestinian foreign trade? After I saw that the annual two-way figure for 2010 was $29 million and that Palestinian exports to Turkey stood at $270,000, I didn’t bother checking the 2011 numbers.

July/18/2012

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