For me it seemed like 2009 never ended. In fact, in terms of Turkey, Israel, and Palestine, we have seen more of the same. There were no major breakthroughs on all fronts, just a continuing bleakness which very well might continue through 2010. Immediately, before writing this, I read bits and pieces of my yearly horoscope thinking to myself that it would be great if I could look into the stars and predict the future of the region.
Israel and Palestine
As I write this, I am in a nice café in Ranaana, one of the most upscale cities located north of Tel Aviv. It is hard to imagine that just 10 miles from here there is a different reality which gets worse and worse as years go by. The gap between these well-off neighborhoods and what lies just over the “green line” in the Palestinian territories is immense. However, one not need go so far; the gap between rich and poor among Jewish communities in Israel is shocking enough. I always said if Theodore Herzl was to come back to life and visit the northern Tel Aviv neighborhoods he would be proud! However, if he were to go the southern Israeli cities, the mixed Jewish-Arab cities, or the “development towns,” he certainly would have admitted that Israel had failed once he set his eyes on the poverty, the low level of education, and the apparent inequalities of the Israeli society.
On the peace front, nothing emerged in 2009. And, another year passed with Gilad Shalit being held captive, while the bargaining goes on between Israel and Hamas. While this goes on, the Gaza strip is still under a blockade, locked in their open-air prison. Israel has not only succeeded in recycling their leaders, but also parts of the peace process. In 1992 the main demand was for Israel to freeze all building of settlements. In 2009, this was the main debates: to freeze or not to freeze the expansion of settlements. This is just a sign that Israel still has a major leadership crisis. How else can one explain that Benjamin Netanyahu became the Prime Minister once again? Clearly, the time is on the Palestinians side and it shocking that Israel remains so blind to the reality on the ground. Well, even if time is on the Palestinians side, it does not matter much with the continued inability of the two Palestinian factions –Fatah and Hamas- to reach an understanding. In short, there are not many options for 2010. Perhaps another war between Israel and Hamas; perhaps with Hizballah; perhaps the beginning of another round of pointless peace talks, which are set more to buy time than reach a genuine peace. The forecast does not look promising. Let’s hope I am wrong.
There is no doubt that in comparison to the above Turkey is going through a much more dynamic period. The AKP ruling party’s Kurdish initiative was a bold step; however, with the outlawing of the Kurdish DTP party, and the cracking down on Kurdish leaders, who clearly expressed that they are following direct orders from jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, the government has learned that this process will be much more painful than they previously assessed. Meanwhile, daily clashes between Kurdish supporters of the outlawed PKK organization and the Turkish police can easily be ignited into a much greater conflict. It seems that the Kurdish initiative is in some sense a symptom, which characterizes all of the government’s major initiatives, and appears to not have been fully thought through before its implementation. For example, on the Armenian front, things seemed as if they were moving forward after the signing of the protocols in the fall. However, since then not much progress has been made at opening the border and trying to reach an historical consensus between the two states. Lastly, the AKP’s blatant insistence at trying to break the extrajudicial powers of the Turkish army under the context of the “Ergenekon Affair” is quite worrying to say the least. The arresting and trials of numerous secular and army officials accused of planning a coup d’etat, is worrying in the sense that even if there is truth to the affair, the way it is being played out in the public sphere appears simply to be the religious and liberal factions taking revenge on their political rivals. Furthermore, with numerous “suicides” among army officers who were arrested for plotting against the government, the extent of chaos in the army cannot be underestimated. Therefore, the problems that cursed Turkey in 2009 seem to be the exact same ones that will preoccupy the Turkish political spectrum and society in 2010. And, after all the dust has settled, PM Erdogan seems in a much weaker position, both in Turkey and on the international scene. No doubt, he is still extremely popular, however his “one-man show” is getting boring and the Turkish society would like more action than talk. These traits are evident also internationally, and while countries will have to continue to work with him, his zig-zag behavior and heated rebuttals paint him out to be much more of a petty politician than a visionary who will make his stamp on history.