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Entries in Turkey (12)


Palestine Video & Analysis: Saeb Erekat's Speech at Birmingham (Yenidunya/Baghdady)

Ali Yenidunya and Christina Baghdady write:

On 23 March, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Dr. Saeb Erakat spoke about the current political stalemate at the University of Birmingham. This prompted a lively and open debate, with Erakat encouraging those who attended to challenge him. The topics covered were broad, including: the Palestinian Israeli conflict, including the most recent exchange of maps between the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas; the relationship and influence of external powers on the region; and the problem with Hamas.

Middle East Inside Line: Is Washington Scaring the Israeli Government?
US-Israel: The Big Fight Within Obama Administration — Ross v. Mitchell, NSC v. State Department

Video sections are interspersed amongst the analysis:


Peace talks with Israel

Stating that the recent proximity talks should be based on a generally agreed framework consisting of core issues, in particular borders, Erakat suggested a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with agreed swaps of territory.


Erakat outlined the counter proposal, in response to the December 2008 offer of the Olmert Government in Israel, on the border swaps (part  3 of the video). Although the satellite images show that 1.2% of the West Bank is occupied by Israeli settlements, the Olmert government provided a map in December 2008 annexing 6.5% of settlement land (in return of giving 5.8%). The Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas provided a counter-map approving an annexation of 1.9% of the total land. Erekat noted that no agreement was achieved, and the problem is yet to be solved.

The questions remains:  what is the purpose of Israeli settlements and their expansion in the Palestinian territories since 1967? The term "security" is constantly reproduced by Israeli advocates. The Palestinian Authority also invokes "security", but it does so to consolidate legitimacy not just within the eyes of Palestinians but also in the international arena, since interaction with a stateless, non-territorial Palestinian group is more problematic compared to that with Israel. In the absence of a level playing field between Israel and the Palestinian territories and of Israel accepting conditions for the end of settlement construction, there is little hope for both parties to understand each other’s needs.


Erakat pointed out the cost of war must be greater than that of peace to achieve a peace settlement. Was this a subtle hint that Israel is hoping to benefit further from a lack of peace? Following US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, 1600 new housing units were approved by the Jerusalem municipality. Then, on 24 March, hours before the Obama-Netanyahu meeting in the White House, the Jerusalem municipality announced final approval for construction of 20 apartments in a controversial hotel in east Jerusalem.

That is where we come to the point of crisis. Despite Washington’s pressure on Israel to announce a moratorium in East Jerusalem if not a permanent freeze, the Israeli authorities are still ignoring calls to stop settlement expansion. Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told  his ministers in the weekly Cabinet meeting: “As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv.”


This crisis came out in Erekat’s words: “If Israel does not want a two-state solution, if they want to call my home town Jericho in its Hebrew name Yeriho, if they want to call Nablus in its Hebrew Shechem, if they want to call al Quds, Yerushalayim... [it] is destroying the two-state solution.” (part 2 of video)

External influence

To achieve peace in a region of conflict, a mediator may be useful, but if the mediator is not effective or the peace process reaches a stalemate, then external influences and distant events can adversely affect the situation. Erekat commented, "When bombs are falling in Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs are falling in my home in Jerusalem....When bombs fall in Kandahar, it also falls in my home in Jerusalem."


For the mediator to conduct their role effectively, they must be on good terms with the parties in conflict. The US has been that mediator with the 1993 Oslo process, but their position --- after a second intifada, the attack on Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and now a potential third intifada  --- is now strained.


Erekat noted the issue of "security" for the US,  "This is a wake up call....The US take bodies wrapped in the national flag back to the US daily... They do not need anyone to seek security for them." This "wake-up call" has arguably brought a renewed push for peace, with  talks much more regular under the Obama Presidency than under the previous Bush administration.

However, Erakat pointed out that the Palestinian government had chosen the EU for nation- building, security talks, and mediation, and it wasn’t because they "love them". According to Erekat, the EU have  credibility and can provide sufficient financial support to the Palestinian territories. In addition, the EU has relatively stable relations with the US as it faces its "wake-up call".


When one looks at the options available to the Palestinians, they have little choice Egypt and Jordan have arguably been effective as mediators; however, their financial contribution to nation-building as well as their credibility is on a par with the EU.

The United Nations, another option given their role in the Quartet (US-EU-UN-Russia) are not that close to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, it has failed on previous occasions to enforce the notion of the collective upon the action of a state, as in the ability to prevent the US-UK invasion of Iraq.


Russia would be an interesting but highly unlikely choice as mediator. Russia has military links with Iran and thus with Syria and Hezbollah. That is a suspect list of alliances for the US, which would prefer the Palestinian government to choose the EU over Russian involvement.

For Erekat, democracy is the second pillar, after “just” solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, of the fight against “extremism”. He stated, "Anyone who says Arab world is not ready for democracy is a racist.”

That assertion faces the reality of governmental structures such as monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Oman, constitutional monarchies in Bahrain and Jordan; constitutional emirates in Kuwait and Qatar, a federation of emirates in United Arab Emirates, an authoritarian regime in Syria, and a “half-democracy” in Iraq.

Erekat says that “democracy is democracy”, regardless of how it arrives,  but that cannot guarantee social change and a political agenda for his outcome. Indeed, beyond the Arab world, does the US want this? Which country has been the closest ally of Washington? Israel or Saudi Arabia?


The Problem of Hamas

Dr. Erekat harshly criticized Hamas’s policy following its victory in the last Gazan elections. He described Hamas’s existence in the Gaza Strip as a coup d’etat and emphasized that “democracy in Palestine did not fail but Hamas failed”. Referring to the Quartet’s demands (recognition of the State of Israel, renouncing “terrorism”, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations including the "Road Map"), Erekat blamed Hamas for not acting as a responsible government.


Yet, what is to be done? Erekat says that nations must go and tell Hamas to sign the reconciliation document. But how? In an aggressive manner? Erekat himself said that the peace talks had collapsed due to Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in December 2008.

So, can Erekat mean that the only solution to peace is through dialogue in the region? Perhaps, given Erekat's reference to Tehran. Unlike his President, Mahmoud Abbas, who had blamed Iran for blocking reconciliation between his Fatah organization and Hamas, Erekat said that Iran should not be seen as a threat.


How is this possible? Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the UK, Talya Lador-Fresher, in her own speech at Birmingham in March, said Israel’s official policy is not to help the Gazans develop themselves economically. West Jersualem's position is explicit: unless there is a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, Israel will never intervene and talk to Hamas.

At a time when both Israel and Egypt show their teeth to Hamas, who is supposed to put pressure on the Israelis to show flexibility? The EU or the US? Given Israel’s “(in)security needs”, and its claim that it has suffered since the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, urging West Jerusalem to sit at a table with Hamas is more difficult than having Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the same table.

There is just one solution: instead of indirect pressure from Washington, the Obama Administration should start the same strategy they have pursued with Damascus to get a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas as soon as possible. This would not only help institutions produce an antidote to “insecurity requirements” but also bring an increase in the pressure on the State of Israel to reconsider the extent of its “concessions” on core issues.

The Latest from Iran (28 March): Dealing with Exaggerations

2150 GMT: The website of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri claims that 30 people were arrested at the funeral of his wife, MahSoltan Rabani (see 1730 GMT).

1815 GMT: Sanctions Division. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again rejected new sanctions on Iran. In an interview with Spiegel, ahead of a visit to Turkey by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Erdogan maintained, "We must first try to find a diplomatic solution. "What we need here is diplomacy, and then more diplomacy....Everything else threatens world peace."

NEW Iran’s Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times
The Latest from Iran (27 March): Rumours

1745 GMT: Denial of a Rumour. Yesterday we reported the story racing around the Internet that the Revolutionary Guard was laundering money through Dubai and Bahrain, using Ali Jannati, the son of Guardian Council leader Ahmad Jannati, and putting the funds in a Swiss bank.

We would have left it at that, but Press TV now reports:

Iran has denied reports that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) was involved in the money-laundering operation allegedly run by a Bahraini minister.

"We strongly deny all claims about an alleged involvement of the Guards in the operations," said Iranian Ambassador to Doha Hossein Amir Abdollahian....

The allegation came to light after Bahraini State Minister Mansour Bin Rajab was sacked for his supposed involvement in a money-laundering operation.

1730 GMT: A Restricted Funeral for Montazeri's Wife. MahSoltan Rabani, the wife of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, was laid to rest today under strict security measures in Qom. Rabani's son Saeed Montazeri said:
Security forces and forces in plain clothes created such a security atmosphere that we were basically unable to carry out the special prayers and mourning ceremony. Tens of government vehicles brought the body without allowing any access to it even by her family. They made a small stop at the [Masoumeh] shrine and quickly removed her form the premises....

They not only did not allow us to hold the ceremony, they did not even let us bury her in the location that we had in mind.

Saeed Montazeri's conclusion? "They are even scared of a corpse and its burial.”

1530 GMT: We have updated our analysis on Obama Administration policy and this morning's New York Times claim of a search for undisclosed Iranian nuclear sites.

0950 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Green Voice of Freedom claims that Tehran University medical student Shirin Gharachedaghi was abducted by plainclothes forces on Friday; her whereabouts are unknown.

Peyke Iran reports that Reza Khandan, a member of the Iranian Writers Association, remains in prison after more than six weeks, even though bail has been paid.

Parleman News writes that Dr. Ali Akbar Soroush of Mazandaran University, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been in prison since 13 March.

Rah-e-Sabz claims 181 human rights violations in Kurdistan over the last three months, leading tothe deaths of at least 25 people.

0945 GMT: We've published an analysis of what I see as poor, even dangerous, journalism from The New York Times on Iran's nuclear programme.

0930 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. The reformist Parleman News publishes a barbed "historical" analysis on Hashemi Rafsanjani as a mediator between "right" and "left" positions. The analysis contends that the right stopped supporting Rafsanjani when the "left" had been sufficiently weakened, leaving Rafsanjani without a role. It adds that the former Preisdent should have established a party; if so, Iran would not necessarily be in its current predicament.

0720 GMT: An International Nowruz Exaggeration? Khabar Online claims that the First International Nowruz Celebrations (see 0620 GMT), scheduled for two days, only lasted one and never made it to Shiraz, which was supposed to co-host the ceremonies with Tehran.

0710 GMT: Arab Engagement. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, has told the League's summit in Libya, "We have to open a dialogue with Iran. I know there is a worry among Arabs regarding Iran but this situation confirms the necessity of a dialogue with Iran."

0655 GMT: President v. Parliament. The Ahmadinejad fightback for his subsidy cuts and spending plans continues, with three members of Parliament --- Hamid Rassai, Hossein Sobhaninia, and Esmail Kowsari --- pressing in Iranian state media for approval of the President's full request for $40 billion from his subsidy reductions. The Majlis has only approved $20 billion, and Speaker Ali Larijani and allies have taken a strong line against any revision of the decision.

Another MP, Mohammad Kousari, has suggested that Parliament approve $30 billion.

0645 GMT: Repent! Mahdi Kalhor, President Ahmadinejad's media advisor, raises both eyebrows and a smile with his forthright declarations in Khabar Online.

Kalhor started with a move for conciliation, saying that if all who made mistakes during the post-election turmoil adopted modesty and accepted their faults, people would forgive them.

But the advisor then complained that Iran's state media do not suppport Ahmadinejad, claiming this was in contrast to the period of Mohammad Khatami, "Everything was represented as fair enough and it caused damage to Mr. Khatami more than the others."

According to Kalhor, there have been no Ahmadinejad mistakes and "when the rivals constantly accuse you of lying, you may not tolerate or control such a climate."

0620 GMT: We begin Sunday dealing with inflated "news" inside and outside Iran. Iranian state media is hammering away at the two days of the First International Nowruz Celebrations to show the regional legitimacy of the regime. First, there was President Ahmadinejad's declaration alongside compatriots from compatriots from Tajikistan , Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Then there was the Supreme Leader's statement: "This event and its continuity can serve as an appropriate ground for bringing governments and nations in the region closer together....[This can be a] cultural gift and conveyance from nations that mark Nowruz to other nations, particularly the West."

(I leave it to readers to decode the photograph of the Supreme Leader and the regional Presidents, with Ahmadinejad relegated to the back of the group. Surely just an error of positioning?)

Meanwhile in the US, another type of distracting exaggeration. After weeks of silence, the Iran Nuclear Beat of The New York Times (reporters David Sanger and William Broad) are back with two pieces of fear posing as news and analysis. The two, fed by dissenting voices in the International Atomic Energy Agency and by operatives in "Western intelligence agencies", declare, "Agencies Suspect Iran Is Planning New Atomic Sites".

The leap from their sketchy evidence to unsupported conclusion --- Iran is not just pursuing an expansion of uranium enrichment but The Bomb, bringing a climactic showdown --- is propped up by Sanger's "Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran".

Middle East Inside Line: Arab League/Turkey Criticism of Israel, Peres v. Netanyahu, Armenia Complication for Turkey-Israel?

Arab League, Turkey Criticise Israel: "We have to study the possibility that the [Israel-Palestine] peace process will be a complete failure," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said on Saturday in his opening speech to the Arab League summit in the Libyan town of Sirte.

At the same meeting, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan targeted Israel both on the issues of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He said:
Jerusalem is of great importance for whole region and Islamic world. Israel's attacks on Jerusalem and sacred places cannot be accepted.

5,000 families in Gaza are living in tents. Humanity should raise its voice against this situation.

Israel, Iran, and “Existential Threat” (Halpern)
US-Israel: On the Verge of Historic Change?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians cannot continue unless Israel stops building in the settlements:

We cannot resume indirect negotiations as long as Israel maintains its settlement policy and the status quo.

Peres v. Netanyahu on Settlements?: Israeli President Shimon Peres reportedly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the violation of the status quo on building in East Jerusalem by allowing construction for Jews in the heart of Arab neighborhoods in the city. He added that the crisis with Washington could be resolved with no further building for Jews in predominantly Arab areas of the city as it has been followed by previous Israeli governments.

Armenia to Complicate Israel-Turkey Alliance?: Israeli news agency IzRus says that the leader of Israel's Meretz party, Haim Oron is again preparing to bring an Armenian "genocide" proposal to the Knesset. The proposal was rejected by the Parliament last year, but Meretz argues that this year's proposal is not to be considered within the context of the Turkish-Israeli strategic relationship.

Turkey-Armenia: The Freeze in Relations

Fulya Inci writes for EA:

The reconciliation process in Turkey-Armenia relations seems to be frozen after the resolutions of U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and Swedish Parliament in early March calling the events of 1915 as “genocide”. The Turkish Government reacted loudly to the decisions, and the two neighbouring countries now blame each other for not taking concrete steps to political resolution.

The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee resolution on 4 March declaring “genocide”, supporting the Armenian case, stunned Turkish officials because they thought they had conducted an effective lobbying campaign. Committee members voting against the resolution indicated that they approved the finding of genocide but that the timing of the declaration was wrong. They mentioned that it would damage the Turkey-US alliance, especially in Afghanistan, and the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia.

However, the resolution passed by a 23- 22 vote, and Turkish ambassador Namık Tan was soon recalled by Ankara. Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized President Obama for his late intervention. Tan is still in Turkey, and his return subject to a "clear stance" of Obama demanded by Erdogan.

A similar resolution was approved by the Swedish parliament in a 131-130 vote on 11 March, alleging genocide of Assyrians and Pontic Greeks at the same time. Although Swedish senior officials said that they do not support the bill, diplomatic tensions have risen.

Now the Turkish-Armenian protocols signed in October are in limbo. Armenia has made the recognition of genocide a pre-condition for further development of relations while Turkey insists on a resolution of Azeri-Armenian conflict, including over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Turkish Parliament has not ratified the protocols. Erdogan's interview with BBC Turkish Service during his last visit to London, with remarks of “deporting 100.000 Armenians living illegally in case the normalization process does not work", has been condemned.

The Latest from Iran (24 March): Regime Confidence, Regime Fear?

2210 GMT: Neda Propaganda Overkill. You might think it would be enough for Iranian state media that Caspian Makan, the reported fiancé of Neda Agha Soltan, had met Israeli President Shimon Peres (see separate entry). But, no, Press TV has to go much, much farther:

One of the suspects believed to be involved in the killing of a young woman during Tehran's post-election violence last year has visited Israel.
Caspian Makan, who claims to be Neda Agha Soltan's fiancé, has met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, during his stay in Israel.

Makan was also interviewed as a guest on an Israeli TV channel.

Agha Soltan was shot dead far away from the riot scene on June 20. Western media accused Iranian security forces of killing her, but police rejected the allegations and said Neda was shot with a small caliber pistol which is not used by the Iranian police.

They have described the killing as a premeditated act of murder "organized by US and Israeli intelligence services."

NEW Iran: The Controversy over Neda’s “Fiance”
NEW Iran: An Internet Strategy to Support the Greens? (Memarian)
The Latest from Iran (23 March): Inside and Outside the Country

2140 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Gooya reports that more than 900 Iranians have signed a petition calling for the release of imprisoned student Omid Montazeri.

Montazeri was arrested in January after he approached the Ministry of Intelligence following the detention of his mother and guests at the Montazeri house.

2015 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. On a slow news day, Parleman News has not one but two features around Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The top story on Rafsanjani's latest declaration is not that earth-shaking: the former President issues another fence-sitting declaration that "the majority of protesters are loyal to the regime", which allows him to back some public pressure on the Government while maintaining his own position of backing the Supreme Leader. No real change there.

More intriguing is the appearance of Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani's daughter. The content of the interview is not very subversive. Hashemi talks about her education and passion 4 women's sports as well as making the far-from-controversial assertion that her father wants the common good of society. It's the timing that matters: the interview comes a few days after the regime tried to shut Hashemi up by arresting her son, Hassan Lahouti.

1440 GMT: Sanctions Rebuff. Turkey, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has added to the obstacles for tougher international sanctions on Iran. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "There is still an opportunity ahead of us and we believe that this opportunity should be used effectively. Not less, but more diplomacy (is needed)."

(I am beginning to suspect that these moves might be political theatre, accepted if not directed by Washington. The Obama Administration's approach seems to be a public posture of the international route, primarily as a response to Congressional pressure, while carrying out the meaningful initiatives in bilateral talks with other countries and even with individual companies.)

1420 GMT: Today's Obama-Bashing. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Parliament's National Security Committee, takes on the daily duty of slapping down the US Government's approach to Iran:
[President Obama's Nowruz] comments were nothing but a deception. They (Americans) have sent several messages during the last year calling for talks with Iran, but at the same time passed more than 60 anti-Iranian bills in their Congress. As long as there is no sense of balance between their comments and actions, offering talks could be only a trick....Obama has lost his prestige among the world's public opinion, therefore his new year message has no value.

1400 GMT: On the Economic Front. This could be significant: The Russian energy firm LUKoil has announced its withdrawal from an oil project in Iran "due to the impossibility of carrying out further work at the field because of the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government".

LUKoil has a 25 percent stake in the Anaran project; a Norwegian company, Hydro, has the other 75 percent. We'll see if this withdrawal sticks: LUKoil also announced in October 2007 that it was pulling out of the project, which encompasses Azar, Changuleh-West, Dehloran and Musian oilfields with reserves at the project sites estimated at 2 billion barrels, but it resumed work two months later.

1200 GMT: We've posted an editorial from prominent reformist journalist Masih Alinejad criticising Caspian Makan, the "fiancé" of Neda Agha Soltan.

0925 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Iran Human Rights Voice reports that writer and women's rights activist Laleh Hasanpour was detained by Intelligence agents on 16 March and taken to an undisclosed location.

0745 GMT: Iran and Afghanistan. Readers have noted the latest wave of allegations, spurred by The Sunday Times of London that the Iranian Government is providing support, including funding and training, to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I have been cautious in reporting the allegations, in part because The Sunday Times has been a handy channel in the past for those spreading "information" to discredit Tehran. Far more importantly, key US Government officials and military leaders are also playing down the accusation. General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, has said any Iranian Government role in assistance is limited. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates echoes, "There is some [training], but it, to this point, I think, has been considered to be pretty low-level."

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Sholtis said on Monday, "We've known for some time that Iran has been a source for both materiel and trained fighters for Taliban elements in Afghanistan"; however, he added that US officials do not know if the training is "simply something that is happening beyond the government's control".

(hat-tip to an EA reader for raising the story and providing sources)

0730 GMT: With the Green Movement in a quiet phase (defeated, intimidated, or just lying low?), attention is on the continuing battle between elements of the regime and Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Iranian authorities released Rafsanjani's grandson Hasan Lahouti yesterday, albeit on $70,000 bail, and they had to let go the former President's ally Hassan Marashi after a short detention. The anti-Rafsanjani campaign is far from over, however.

The latest assault comes from Gholam-Hossein Elham, a member of the Guardian Council. In a lengthy "unpublished interview" which somehow is published on Fars, Elham details post-election subversion. Specifically, he targets Rafsanjani for Friday Prayers addresses which did not support the Government and thus opened the way for illegal protest and manoeuvres to undermine the Islamic Republic.

So a question: is the sustained assault on Rafsanjani a sign of regime confidence that, having vanquished the opposition outside the system, it can move aggressively against challengers within? Or is it an indication that this is a Government which will never feel secure in its supposed legitimacy?