The more Erdogan builds bases in Arab states, as he has managed to do so far in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Qatar, and Somalia, the more he is regarded with alarm by most Arabs. His attempt to champion the Palestinian cause is not welcomed, but seen as another neo-Ottoman act of Turkish aggrandizement, trying to adopt and promote the “Palestinian cause” as a means to increase Turkish influence among the Arabs and other Muslims. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
The Palestinian mobs rioting in Jerusalem are being whipped up by various Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim leaders, each trying to obtain some benefit from the disorder. Mahmoud Abbas has been using the property dispute between Jewish owners and Arab tenants in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to whip up Palestinian rage that he calculates will take attention away from his decision to cancel the elections he had announced with such fanfare in January, and so far, his calculation has proved correct.
Meanwhile, Abbas’ Hamas rivals have been showing up in the Jerusalem demonstrations, taking charge, waving their Hamas flags in great profusion even inside the Al-Aqsa mosque, where in the past PA enforcers might have tried to suppress such a display, but given Hamas’ popularity in the West Bank, and the widespread dislike of Mahmoud Abbas, they do not dare to do so now. Had the elections taken place, Hamas was predicted to win both the parliamentary and presidential elections, the latter with 60% of the vote. Hamas has been threatening that if there are evictions of Arabs from Sheikh Jarrah properties, it will step up its latest campaign of rockets and incendiary bombs launched from Gaza into Israel. On May 10, it let fly more than 150 rockets into Israel, even managing to close down the Knesset. Meanwhile, Palestinians in Jerusalem can see for themselves that it is Hamas operatives, not those of the PA, who have been most visible among the rioters, and they are being given credit for their steadfastness.
Another Muslim figure trying to exploit the Palestinian riots in Jerusalem for his own aggrandizement is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On December 12, 2017, the newspaper Yeni Safak, which is close to Erdogan, published a plan for a pan-Islamic army that would pool the military resources of the entire Muslim world in order to launch an attack that would destroy the Jewish state; the clear implication was that Turkey should be the natural leader of such a force. Everyone understood that the plan came from Erdogan himself. Unfortunately for the Turkish president, his plan was met not with enthusiasm, but with silence. He did not realize then, and still does not, that many Arabs harbor resentment over how they were treated by their Turkish overlords during the 500 years of the Ottoman Empire.
Here is the latest on Erdogan’s attempt to insert himself into the Arab unrest in Jerusalem, and to put himself, as is his wont, front and center: “Turkish President Erdogan Fans Flames of Jerusalem Conflict in Hardline Messages to Hamas, PLO Leaders,” by Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, May 10, 2021:
Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unashamedly sought to intensify the conflict in eastern Jerusalem between Palestinians and the Israeli authorities on Monday, as he promised leaders of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that Ankara would “mobilize the whole world, especially the Islamic world, to stop Israel’s terrorism and occupation.”
He’ll “mobilize the whole world” against Israel? But no one took him up on his plan to “mobilize the whole Muslim world” against Israel when he made that proposal in December 2017. In fact, Erdogan’s attempts to spread Turkish power have only caused alarm among many Arab states, and not just because of memories of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan has taken sides in the Libyan civil war, backing the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj in western Libya, earning the anger of the Arab states that support the forces of General Khaifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) in eastern Libya. These states include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and, most immediately, Egypt. The Egyptians have rebuffed recent attempts by Erdogan to improve relations; they were alarmed by Erdogan’s attempts to enlarge the maritime borders of Turkey, in order to lay claim to more of the natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean. Egypt now has, and prefers, its energy alliance with Israel, and its multilateral agreements with Israel, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus on gas supplies and a gas pipeline to Europe. Erdogan has established in Libya both a naval base at Misrata, a city with one million Libyans of Turkish descent, and an airbase at Al-Watiya, part of his neo-Ottoman expansionism. He has also, against the wishes of the Syrian government, established Turkish military bases in northwest Syria, in order to ensure that Syrian Kurds cannot link up with the Kurdish PKK in Turkey. Erdogan has managed to place Turkish bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, again to keep the local Kurds from establishing military ties to Kurds in Turkey. There is also a Turkish training base in Somalia, giving Turkey a further foothold in Africa.. Such signs of spreading Turkish military power make many Arabs, who remember the mistreatment they received from their Ottoman overlords, most uneasy.
In separate telephone calls with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh, Erdogan condemned “the cruelty inflicted on Palestinians and these vile attacks that hurt not only the conscience of Muslims, but the whole of humanity.”
The “whole of humanity” has had its conscience hurt because the Israeli police are trying manfully to contain the fanatical frenzy of Muslim rioters throwing very large rocks and Moloov cocktails at them? The Israelis have gone out of their way to be solicitous of Muslim sensibilities; they have even cancelled the annual Jerusalem Day march through the Old City so as to dampen potential violence. How’s that for “cruelty”? And what about the wounded Palestinians who are being treated in Israeli hospitals by Jewish doctors? Is that the kind of “vile attack” that hurts the “conscience of Muslims [and] the whole of humanity”? A “vile attack” is that by Arabs who killed a 19-year-old Orthodox boy returning from prayers. A “vile attack” is the attempt to lynch an Israeli family; the seven-month-old baby girl in the car miraculously escaped from being killed when the rock thrown directly at her was deflected by a mirror sewn into her teddy bear. A “vile attack” is that by Hamas, when it in one day, May 10, fired more than 150 rockets from Gaza at Jewish civilians, including one rocket that forced the members of the Knesset to run for cover.
Erdogan stressed that Turkey would always be a “supporter of the Palestinian cause, stand by its Palestinian brothers and protect Jerusalem’s dignity.”
Aside from his anti-Israel rants – the ones he often broadcasts from his 1,000-room White Palace (Ak Saray), that cost Turkish taxpayers $615 million — how has Erdogan stood by the Palestinians? Has he sent troops? Weapons? Money? None of the above. How has he protected Jerusalem’s “dignity,” other than to suggest that Turkey might involve itself in the running of the Waqf that administers the Temple Mount, a suggestion met with fury by Jordan?
The Turkish leader’s outreach to both sides of the divided Palestinian political leadership followed an inflammatory speech on Saturday night in which he demonized Israel as a terrorist state.
“Cruel Israel, the terror state of Israel, has been violently and immorally attacking the Muslims in Jerusalem, who dream of nothing but protecting all the things they deem sacred, the homes they have inherited from their families for thousands of years, their lands,” Erdogan declared.
For “thousands of years,” since at least 1500 B.C., it has been the Jews who have been living in Jerusalem. Not a single Muslim Arab lived in what is now Israel until the seventh century A.D., that is, 2200 years after the first Jews lived there. As for the Palestinians now living in the disputed properties in Sheikh Jarrah, they took over those properties when the Jordanians expelled the Jews from what had been Jewish property since 1875, when it was bought from its Arab owners by the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Grand Rabbis of Jerusalem. The Arabs lived in those Jewish-owned properties from 1948 to 1967. That’s not “thousands of years,” but nineteen.
Erdogan’s long-established championing of the Palestinian issue has been integral to his efforts to assert Turkish leadership of the Islamic world over the last decade, a stance labeled by some observers as “neo-Ottoman.”
The more Erdogan builds bases in Arab states, as he has managed to do so far in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Qatar, and Somalia, the more he is regarded with alarm by most Arabs. His attempt to champion the Palestinian cause is not welcomed, but seen as another neo-Ottoman act of Turkish aggrandizement, trying to adopt and promote the “Palestinian cause” as a means to increase Turkish influence among the Arabs and other Muslims.
Always eager for evidence that the Palestinians themselves regard Erdogan as their liberator-in-waiting, several of Turkey’s pro-government news outlets on Monday ran the same story about a Palestinian activist in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood calling on the Turkish President to re-establish the Ottoman Empire.
“Erdogan, the light of both of my eyes, come and liberate Palestine,” urged Sheikh Jarrah resident Fatima Es-Sus, known as Umm Aymen, in comments to reporters from Turkey’s AA news agency.
“Come and establish the Ottoman Empire again. Let’s live together not only for 500 years, but for thousands of years,” Es-Sus continued.
The Arabs are already wrought up by Erdogan’s military bases in five Arab lands, his maladroit attempt to put a Turkish representative on the Waqf that administers the Temple Mount, his plan to create a pan-Islamic army, with Turkey at its head, to destroy the Jewish state. And now this, the sentiment that any self-respecting Arab hates to hear: “Come and establish the Ottoman Empire again.” And Erdogan, tone-deaf to Arab memories and desires, wonders why anyone should object.