Palestinians and Turkish Cypriots need a strong Turkey
Donald Trump is not fond of Muslims, and every step he took has been detrimental for the Muslims in the Middle East. Likewise, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban is openly anti-Muslim. Russia is responsible for the death of tens of thousands of Syrian Muslims with the support it lends to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Yet, Ankara continues to speak to both governments and not only does it have extremely good relations with Russia, it cooperates with Moscow to find a solution in Syria. Obviously the U.S. and Russia are super power nations one cannot afford to break bridges with. But how about Hungary, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited last year?
When Turkey transitioned from the period based on “zero problems with neighbors’ policy” to one that was called “precious loneliness,” the government’s stance was justified by the urge to follow a “principled policy.” In other words, we were told Turkey was going after its values and principles rather than its mere interests.
Yet current inconsistencies contradict this approach. One can understand Turkey’s frustration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inhumane policies against Palestinians. One can equally understand Turkey’s anger against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s oppressive policies against the Muslim Brotherhood. One is shocked at Europe’s hypocrisy over Sisi’s despotic rule.
However, Turkey’s decision makers are no doubt aware that both Netanyahu’s oppressive policies and Sisi’s despotic rule are encouraged and supported by Trump.
Washington recently proclaimed the Syrian Golan Heights a part of Israel and gave approval to the Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territories. The White House recently announced that it was intending to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
If Turkey can find a way to talk with a global actor so decisive for the Middle East it can find a way to work with regional actors who are key players in the Middle East.
It should not only do so for its interests but for the interests of the Palestinians and the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood.
Unfortunately organizing big conferences in Turkey, hosting some Palestinian figures where participants express to each other their anger against Israel does not help much the Palestinian cause.
Similarly, hosting members of Muslim Brotherhood and allowing them to live and work legitimately in Turkey cannot be a panacea to the bleeding wound.
Turkey should be on talking terms with Israel and Egypt in order to help the causes of the Palestinians and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Currently, its Middle East policy is also threatening its potential role in the Eastern Mediterranean energy equation, which could be used in favor of Turkish Cypriots.
The cheapest and efficient way to deliver gas that is found by Israelis, Egyptians and Cypriots is via a pipeline to Turkey.
At a time when Turkey is facing difficulties due to Iranian sanctions imagine how such a pipeline would contribute to the government’s efforts to diversify its suppliers. In addition, transferring excess gas to Europe the pipeline would help Turkey’s aspiration to become a hub.
Next to the economic benefit, the energy connection would provide a tool of leverage for Turkey. It would have a more legitimate say in the Cypriot problem and could even justify its military presence on the island by overseeing the security of the pipeline.
“Between its role as a major consumer of gas and a transit point for even more, natural gas would not only be a boon to the Turkish economy: it would win Erdoğan political power in the region that he so desperately wants. Ankara would be able to set terms and prices, and in extreme cases, even use its position to engage in energy blackmail as Russia has done with Europe in the past,” wrote David Rosenberg in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Yet Ankara’s policy has pushed Israel, Egypt and other players in the Eastern Mediterranean to overcome their differences and join forces to make the best use of the gas discoveries, without Turkey.
Facing so many problems, a crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean will not be to the interest of Turkey. Yet other regional players should not fall into the delusion that they can get away with a framework excluding Turkey, especially in a geography where the unsolved Cypriot problem render maritime rights in the Mediterranean highly contested.
In the meantime, foreign players like the United States and France would do better to play mediator roles rather than bet on an equation without Turkey in it. They should not underestimate Turkey’s nuisance value.