Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TURKEY'S ERDOGAN WALKING A FINE LINE

After ousting senior Israeli diplomats from Ankara last week and jeopardizing continued positive commerce with Tel Aviv, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told Arab states on Tuesday (September 13) in Cairo that it was time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations and accused Israel of obstructing peace in the Middle East.

Erdogan has also strongly protested Israel's offensive against Gaza in 2008, which prompted the end of a close ties between Turkey and Israel, and has condemned its attack on a Turkish ship heading for Gaza that killed nine Turks last year.

Erdogan's Middle East tour will include Tunisia and Libya, which have all witnessed the fall of long-term leaders to massive revolts this year, challenging the old order across the region.

COMMENT: Palestinians will bid for full membership of the United Nations later this month, a move opposed by the United States, which has a veto. Arab states endorsed it at the Cairo meeting, where Erdogan accused the United States of being biased and urged it to reconsider. While in Cairo, Erdogan also met Egypt's Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the military council that took over after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by mass street demonstrations in February.

Protesters attacked Israel's embassy in Cairo last week, prompting the ambassador to fly home and an embarrassed Egyptian government to affirm to Washington, its major aid donor, that it remained committed to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Egypt has received billions of dollars in U.S. military and other aid since making peace with the Jewish state, so the military council faces a difficult balancing act responding to public calls for an assertive policy toward Israel.

Although Erdogan is no doubt "playing to the crowd" in the Arab League, his precipitous negative treatment of Israel will not soon be forgotten and his demand that the Palestinians be accorded full membership in the UN will no doubt put the General Assembly on edge in October. Unquestionably, he is playing very high-risk poker.

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