Turkey – the new frontline?

8th January 2017

turkey

Events over the past six months in Turkey suggest that the focus of Islamic State activities is shifting, from their flagging attempts to gain a foothold in Iraq and Syria, and onto the streets of Turkey.  The New Year’s Eve attack in the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people, was the latest in a series of responses by Islamic State to the losses inflicted by Turkish troops inside Syria.  The killings follow on from the killing of 44 people outside an Istanbul football stadium three weeks ago and the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey on 19th December.

While not all of these actions can be ascribed to the activities of Islamic State they all contribute to the sense of political disjointedness inside Turkey, adding to the desire of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extend the state of emergency, established following the failed coup, on 15th July last year.

The vacillating position of the Turkish government has not helped the situation.  Initially engaged in allowing Islamic State oil supplies to pass through Turkey, thus providing IS with much needed revenue, Turkey has more recently become engaged in the military operations against IS in Syria.  In part, this is cover for its own operations against the Kurdish PKK, who have been engaged in an independence struggle with the Turkish leadership for over 40 years.  It is also part of a wider regional power struggle, in which Erdogan is seeking to position Turkey as a key broker in the region.

Turkey is also in the ambivalent position of both being a member of NATO but being allied with Russia in the current ceasefire negotiations in Syria.  The conflict in Syria has resulted in a massive refugee crisis inside Turkey, with an estimated 3 million refugees having crossed the border from Syria.  Quite apart from the obvious problems this creates in terms of housing, feeding and schooling there is also the suggestion that Syrians are being used as cheap labour, displacing Turkish workers and adding to the already significant unemployment issue.

It is not hard to see how this situation can be exploited by the Islamists, already keen to destabilise Turkey and undermine its secular constitution.  The followers of Islamic preacher, Fethulah Gülen, in self imposed exile in the United States, are already regarded as being behind the coup attempt by the government.  However, Gülen is not trusted by the Left who see him as a tool by which the Islamisation of Turkey may be further advanced.

President Erdogan has taken the opportunity of the 15th July coup attempt to strengthen his grip on the state apparatus and root out any perceived opposition.  Estimates vary but in excess of 100,000 civil servants, journalists and lecturers are said to have lost their jobs, on the pretext of being Gülenist, as Erdogan attempts to silence any opposition.  The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdogan helped found, came to power on the basis that it would be more democratic, more European and more moderate on the world stage.

Turkey at present hardly fits this picture.

Turkey is at the centre of a struggle between rival capitalist interests, in the United States and Russia, over influence and access to markets in the Middle East.  It is also the flashpoint for the religious intersection of Islamic and secular politics in the region.  Alliances continue to shift as the players shift allegiances to shore up their particular side.

As ever, the losers are the people of Turkey, and the wider region, who become pawns in a power game which is not of their own making.  The basis of political struggle in the region must move away from geography and religion and onto an assessment of class interests.  Only then will the people of the region, whether from Turkey, Syria, Iran or Iraq, see that they have more in common than that which divides them.

 

 

Two state solution in jeopardy

2nd January 2017

kerry-netanyahu

The political pundits have packaged away 2016 and filed it under ‘bad year’, in the hope that 2017 is going to be better.  Unfortunately, there is nothing in the political firmament which suggests a more favourable alignment of the planets in the coming year.  The situation in the Middle East; the election of Donald Trump as US President; and the ongoing debate in the European Union, focused upon the outcome of the UK vote to leave, are all auguries of further struggle in the coming year.

The death throes of the Obama administration in the US has thrown up some issues, which Trump will have to deal with upon taking office later this month.  Not least will be the consequences of the United States refusal to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council recently, which resulted in the UN carrying resolution 2334, condemning the illegal Israeli practice of building settlements on Palestinian land.

The Israeli land grab has been going on for many years now.  The wall, which Israel has been building to encompass land which belongs to the Palestinians, has progressed unabated.  The wall functions both as a means to rob Palestinians of land, which is theirs, and also as a means of controlling access to Israel, which is vital for many Palestinians to earn a living.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reacted furiously to the UN vote.  Given that the resolution, passed on 23rd December, states that the settlement programme constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and that it has “no legal validity”, the response of Netanyahu comes as no surprise.

As The Guardian reported on 24th December 2016,

“The response included the recall of the Israeli ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, who voted for the resolution, the cancellation of a planned visit by the Senegalese foreign minister to Israel in three weeks’ time, and the cancellation of all aid programmes to Senegal.”

As part of the initial Israeli response Netanyahu  has publicly accused Obama of “ambushing” Israel at the UN with the “shameful” resolution.  He has also accused Obama of proposing and pushing the measure “behind Israel’s back.”  In an almost unprecedented move, Netanyahu summoned US Ambassador Dan Shapiro to seek “clarifications” on the decision to abstain.

The Israeli establishment have expressed further rage at the foreign policy speech by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, earlier this week.

In his speech, Kerry had the audacity to suggest that Israel comply with international law and seriously work towards a two-state solution to their differences with the Palestinians.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.  That future is now in jeopardy” he said.

Kerry went on to state that,

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.  The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading in the opposite direction.  They are leading towards one state.”

A “two-state solution” is widely accepted as the only realistic way forward to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is not only the declared goal of their leaders but of many international diplomats and politicians.

The solution would see a final settlement involving the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.  The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia and the United States routinely restate their commitment to the concept.

The creation of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land continues to be an issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, who see the settlements as an obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.  More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The response of US President-elect, Donald Trump, has been to suggest that the Israelis should not be treated with “disdain and disrespect” and he has urged Israel to “stay strong” until he assumes office later this month.

France will host an international conference, to lay down the framework for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in Paris this month.  The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Kerry’s speech was “clear, committed and courageous”.

The conference in France is scheduled for 15th January, the inauguration of the new President of the United States is set for the 20th January.  Both dates will have significance for all looking towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, not least the thousands of displaced Palestinians.