Erdogan, the Islamic Ummah’s new leader
Marcella Emiliani talks to Ernesto Pagano 10 June 2010

Iran has announced that in the near future it will send two Red Crescent ships to Gaza. Is this yet another provocation?

International reaction to the disproportionate use of force against civilians has encouraged Israel’s traditional enemies to dare to do the unthinkable. For Tehran this is more than just an opportunity that cannot be ignored. Leaving aside the ploy of using the Red Crescent, the most serious issue is the rapprochement between Iran and Turkey.

How is Turkey’s foreign policy changing?

Bearing in mind the fact that his country is a member of NATO, Erdogan has acted as a Muslim. And as a Muslim he has relations with Iran. This is not a match played out in what we call the Middle East, but in a far larger Islamic Ummah. Of course, it is one thing to reason in terms of geostrategic issues and political opportunities, and another to consider public opinion throughout the Middle East, enraged with the excessively violent military operations against the people of Gaza.

So public opinion has greatly influenced Prime Minister Erdogan’s change of pace…

Erdogan has been influenced by the very social stratum that supports him. The NGO that organised the “Free Gaza” movement, managed to provide seven vessels carrying ten tons of necessary supplies. This is a wealthy NGO, financed by important Turkish businessmen who politically support the Prime Minister. Within such a framework Erdogan does not have much choice.

What do you think of Egypt’s position as another strategic player?

Mubarak’s move in opening the Rafah border crossing proves where the real problem lies, still missing on the international community’s agenda: the Gaza blockade. Mubarak is also the same person who is building underground steal walls to solve the problem of the tunnels under the border. As one can see, his political attitude is very ambivalent. The Israeli government instead continues to speak through its Foreign Minister, saying that there is no humanitarian emergency. There is instead an emergency and it will always lead to unprecedented political tensions.

Is there perhaps a desire to create two Palestines behind the Gaza blockade? A weak and docile West Bank and a “rogue” Gaza Strip?”

The idea, especially for the current Netanyahu government, is to have neither one nor more Palestinian states. The indiscriminate rise in settlements proves this. It is sufficient to consider the situation in the West Bank. The PNA’s Prime Minister Salam Fayyad no longer speaks of a Palestinian State, but, at best, of an integration of economies. As far as the Gaza Strip is concerned, the first and failed objective was to defeat Hamas. The current idea is to ensure that the people are so weary they repudiate Hamas.

Sheikh Raed Salah, a reference point for Arab Israelis, was among the crew members of the Freedom Flotilla. What role do Arab Israelis play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Israeli Arabs have always been known as the invisible Arabs. There are now one and a half million in Israel. They live like second class citizens, not permitted to do their military service, the only real means of integration in the country. Traditionally they vote for the Israeli Labour Party. Little by little, however, and above all since the second intifada, they have become politicised in favour of the Palestinian cause. It is not however clear to what extent they support Hamas and instead to what extent they maintain their traditional secular characteristics.

How do you judge the White House’s behaviour?

During his election campaign, President Obama had promised to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. He has not lifted a finger. Apart from problems linked to internal politics and disasters such as the oil slick and the economic crisis, since the beginning of his mandate, Obama has said that his priority in the Middle East is Afghanistan, followed by Iraq and then, last of all the “old” Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For a prime minister such as Netanyahu this means having a free rein.

But won’t the recent blitz and widespread condemnation by the international community stop the Israeli government?

This is not the first time that Israel puts up with never-ending international isolation. When it comes to voting for an International Investigative Committee to inquire about what happened during the blitz, the United States, followed by Italy, will vote for the inquiry to be carried out by Israelis and not by international judges. That is sufficient for Israel to continue on its own path.

What do you think of Obama’s statement about the need to establish a dialogue with Hamas…

These statements are old hat. If there is disappointment throughout the entire Middle East it is is precisely over Obama, who is incapable of establishing policies in this region. Furthermore, not even Secretary of State Clinton addresses the matter, but delegates everything to “poor” Special Envoy Mitchell, who in spite of his many missions has been unable to achieve anything. Not to mention the old troika consisting of the United States, Europe and Russia that had appointed Tony Blair as the great “weaver of peace plans for the Middle East.” Have you ever seen anyone actually go there?

Translated by Francesca Simmons