MADRID (Today’s Zaman)–Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday blasted Israel for what he said were hard-line policies preventing peace in the Middle East, the Turkish Today’s Zaman reported.
Davutoglu made his remarks during the New Economic Forum in Madrid, where he spoke of Turkey and Spain’s contributions to global peace and stability.
Davutoglu criticized the Israeli government for keeping the region under constant tension with the use or threat of military force and said Tel Aviv’s current policies are in conflict with Turkey’s vision of peace for the region. “Unfortunately the Gaza onslaught by Israeli defense forces against Palestinian civilians had halted all ongoing peace processes, including the Turkish mediated Syrian-Israeli indirect talks,” he lamented.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman during his visit to Spain to meet with his counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, Turkey’s top diplomat said Ankara’s foreign policy has not changed with respect to Israel over the course of many Turkish governments. He stressed that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has pursued and will always pursue the same policies.
He warned that the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories has been a source of tension between Turkey and Israel for many years. Settlement is also a major concern for many world powers including the US, the European Union, and Russia, all of which have called for an immediate halt to all illegal settlement expansion by the Israeli government.
As for the controversial status of Jerusalem, the Turkish foreign minister said, “We do not recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and believe that East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory,” pointing out that the Turkish Embassy is located in Tel Aviv, which Turkey considers the official capital of the Jewish state.
The Turkish foreign minister also noted that Turkey closely watches what is happening on the ground regarding the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. “Israeli troops should not be allowed to enter this holy site,” he said, adding that any action against al-Aqsa would provoke Turkish public opinion and create uproar in the streets of many Muslim countries.
Israeli police stormed the mosque compound last month after violence broke out over rumors that right-wing Jews planned to enter the site. The confrontation between Israeli police in riot gear and Muslim protesters alarmed many in the region, including Turkey.
Dismissing anti-Semitic accusations as baseless, Davutoglu stressed that the Turkish government’s position is not directed against the Israeli public or the Israeli state but rather aimed at the policies adopted by the Israeli government. “We have no problem with the Israeli state or the public,” he remarked. The Turkish foreign minister pointed out that despite recent tension with Israel, Turkey has not withdrawn its ambassador from Tel Aviv.
Commenting on the exclusion of Israel from a NATO military exercise Turkey hosted last month due to the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Gaza, Davutoglu said Ankara had waited until the last minute to make the decision to bar Israel because Turkey was waiting on the result of US President Barack Obama’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu. “If there was progress during that meeting, we could have allowed Israel to participate in the military exercises,” he said.
Davutoglu further confirmed the lingering disappointment of the Turkish government over the Gaza offensive, which claimed the lives of over 1,000 civilians and injured many more. “We were on the verge of a major breakthrough between Syria and Israel on the eve of this onslaught,” he said, recalling that he had cleared the last hurdle on the agreement with the Syrian side and that the Turkish prime minister was readying to forward the proposal the next morning to his Israeli counterpart. “While we were busy with the indirect talks, the very next day Israeli defense forces attacked Gaza, practically causing the collapse of peace talks with Syria” he said.
Davutoglu also commented on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spat with Israeli President Shimon Peres during a session on Gaza at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos earlier this year. Davutoglu said the Israeli side broke the rules of an agreement of understanding held in advance. “We already told the Israelis that our prime minister would criticize the Israeli government for creating the humanitarian civilian tragedy in Gaza while stressing that the Turkish government is staunchly against anti-Semitism,” he said.
“But Peres adopted a hawkish stance at the session and instead of addressing the audience, he turned towards Erdogan, shaking his finger in the air and speaking very impolitely in a high-pitched voice. Nobody has a right to talk to the Turkish prime minister in this manner. He was left no choice but to walk off the stage when he was not allowed to respond to Peres’ remarks,” Davutoglu explained, adding, “Later Perez initiated a phone call to apologize to Erdogan.”
Davutoglu on Monday also lambasted remarks by European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, who said Turkey’s cultural heritage is putting the country’s EU process in a difficult position. His remarks on the issue were made in an interview published in Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Buzek was quoted as saying that Turkey needs decades to complete the membership process, noting that the country has a different place in the enlargement plans of the EU.
Davutoglu expressed his displeasure at the remarks. “It is not the correct approach,” he said, adding there are hundreds of reasons why Turkey is part of European culture. “If the Ottoman [Empire] archive was not opened, European history could not have been written. Turkey is a part of Europe, whether you like it or not. Let’s say Turkey withdrew its candidacy for EU membership, will the EU’s problems then come to an end? We are not in the 19th century.” He said European intellectuals should be thinking more in global terms, “otherwise, European culture will stay in a defensive position against globalization.”
He also said he would like to see a Europe facing challenges with no barriers or borders in minds and rejected a Euro-centric and defensive bloc. Davutoglu also hypothetically argued that even if Turkey gives up on membership in the EU, that won’t solve the cultural problems Europe is facing. “There are millions of Turks already living in EU countries,” he emphasized.