Gaza embargo, not flotilla, source of problem, says Davutoğlu

20 May 2011, Friday / EMİNE KART, KONYA

Ahmet Davutoğlu

While only 10 days are left until the bitter anniversary of the May 31, 2010 Israeli attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has cautioned both international figures and the United Nations to display a consistent stance while approaching the issue and suggested that lending support to a recently reached unity deal between rival Palestinian factions has offered a unique chance for an integrated solution to the issue

“There is something which is still not being understood by some circles: since they couldn’t diagnose the illness, they are looking for the solution in the wrong place, and they suppose that the problem will be resolved or there will actually be no problem if this flotilla doesn’t sail. As a matter of the fact, the flotilla is not the source of the problem. The source of the problem is the embargo [on Gaza]; and the source of the embargo is the deadlock over the Palestinian issue. Those who give these kinds of messages [urging Turkey to prevent the convoy from sailing] should first of all make an effort for resolution of the Palestinian issue to make sure there will be no problem,” Davutoğlu said in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman on Thursday.

His remarks came as calls on Turkey by various figures — and apparently under Israel’s pressure — have mounted for preventing Turkish activists from joining a new flotilla set to depart for Gaza next month. Organizers of an international flotilla say they are planning to depart for Gaza in June to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians in breach of an Israeli blockade of the coastal strip.

On May 31 of last year, a similar flotilla was intercepted in international waters by Israeli commandos. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed on one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, owned by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), a Turkish charity.

“Last year’s flotilla, like this year’s flotilla, was an activity arranged by civil society. These are not at all moves launched upon a decision by Turkey and the participants … are not solely composed of Turks. Delivering messages to Turkey on this issue is extremely wrong. In last year’s flotilla, there were activists from many countries and this year is the same as well. This issue is not an issue that is solely related to Turkey. And within Turkey, it is a civil society issue,” Davutoğlu said in the interview held in the Central Anatolian province of Konya, where he has been continuing his election campaign for the upcoming parliamentary elections on June 12.

Take this opportunity

“There is now an opportunity for those who want to resolve this issue or who don’t want to encounter similar problems. Last year, this opportunity didn’t exist. What is this opportunity? At the moment, the Palestinian authority has decided to reunite. If similar convoy incidents are not desired, then everybody first of all should support the reunification of Palestine. When the Palestinian authority is united, then the disintegration of Palestine, which is the reasoning for the embargo, will disappear. And then there will be no reason for a convoy. That is to say, one should not interpret the issue from the opposite side. Interpreting the issue from the Israeli perspective and delivering messages that only heed Israel’s interest will bring no good to anybody. This has to be known,” he went on to elaborate.

According to the minister, this issue cannot be resolved through an approach that solely considers Israel’s interests. “We should all together make use of the opportunity which emerged for a solution of the problem: Palestine’s unity should be supported, since there will be a return to the status before 2006 when Palestine is united under one authority, then the embargo will go away and accordingly, there will be no similar incident since the embargo is gone. However, forgetting the reason for the incident and looking at the result is really not a constructive approach, and this approach is one that is essentially not helpful or constructive. Gaza’s humanitarian needs are as important as Israel’s security needs are. When one comes and acts as if the other one is making a fuss while there is a legitimate embargo, then the issue turns into a Gordian knot,” Davutoğlu remarked.

“We, as Turkey, and as a democratic country, as in any other democratic country, do not believe that it is right to ban the activities of civil society. Turkey has no such authority to ban [them, either,” he made clear.

“Here, a message should be given to Israel. And this message should be clear: It should obey international law in international waters. The message should be about lending support to Palestine’s unity so that conditions are ripe for lifting the embargo at once. Reducing the issue to Turkish-Israeli relations or to an aid convoy is meant to miss the actual reason behind the issue,” he explained.

On Tuesday Davutoğlu denied a recent report alleging that Ankara has been mulling withdrawal from a UN panel set up to investigate the May 31, 2010 Israeli attack, while on the other hand warning that any outcome favoring Israel from the panel would lead to negative reactions in Ankara.

“Before everything else, there is already a UN report on this case, this is not the first time that the UN body is dealing with it. The report by the UN Human Rights Council has been adopted by the UN General Assembly — that is to say, that it is not just ‘any report.’ The UN General Assembly is the highest authority representing the conscience of the United Nations. The UN Security Council may be adept in regards to sanctions, but it is not adept in regards to conscientious representation. Conscientious representation is something that is displayed by all of the countries. So there is a report in hand which is that much more reliable, and the elements within this report are extremely open. Now, we cannot accept a much narrower UN commission taking a contradictory stance with the earlier council report — partly due to political motives. We would think that this would not be in compliance with the philosophy and the approach of the United Nations,” Davutoğlu told Today’s Zaman on Thursday.

The minister was referring to a report released last September by the three-person fact finding panel appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. The report by the three UN-appointed human rights experts has made it crystal clear that no case can be made for the legality of Israel’s May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine activists dead, while calling the military raid on the flotilla brutal and disproportionate.

“Nevertheless, since there is no final draft yet and since the work is ongoing, we are conveying our perspective to and [being] understanding on the issue with the UN and the related parties. Here, the issue is not healing relations between Turkey and Israel; here, the issue is evaluation of a human rights violation and an attack that led to the loss of nine civilians from the perspective of the fundamental norms of the UN and reaching the conclusion from this point. Those nine civilians might not be Turks; we would still have said the same thing. But the fact that they were Turks enables us to maintain our right to unilaterally take measures. If the UN doesn’t display the required sensitivity, then a situation in contradiction by itself and within UN legal norms will be experienced. Our messages on this are extremely clear and sharp,” Davutoğlu cautioned.

Turkey, once a regional ally of the Jewish state, has scaled back its ties, demanding Israel apologize and pay damages for the May 31, 2010 raid, which caused an international outcry. Eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish-American were shot dead in the May 31 raid when Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara, part of an international aid flotilla trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The UN launched a probe into the raid months after the incident. The UN panel, headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, also includes one Turkish and one Israeli diplomat

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