22 March 2013

Ocalan's Truce Declaration and Parallel Developments

Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK had announced at the beginning of the week that he was going to have a historic declaration on Thursday. He is known to enjoy grand gestures and over-the-top posturing but in this case he might have been fairly accurate in his pronouncement.

The declaration itself is just about a basic ceasefire. And there have been many similar declarations in the past. But there are a few differences this time around. Previous truce offers were unilateral and the PKK eventually unilaterally withdrew them. Moreover, this time (and for the first time), the government acknowledged Ocalan's role and negotiated with him directly. In fact, the head of the Turkish intelligence services was Ocalan's primary interlocutor.

As I have been maintaining that a peaceful end to the Kurdish and Palestinian struggles was inevitable, my take is cautiously optimistic. And it is not just because the US has every reason to bring stability to the region that this will happen: Ocalan played his cards very shrewdly and made sure that he was the key to the orderly unraveling of Syria. PKK's offshoot PYD made every possible move to make the Turkish government incredibly nervous: they were looking at a prolonged civil war and a huge border area (covering both Northern Iraq and Syria) that can be used by the PKK to conduct its operations.

Still, the key was the American push. You could see it in other developments.

First, Erdogan appeared (uncharacteristically) to soften his recent controversial remarks about Zionism being a crime against humanity. As Obama was landing to Israel, Erdogan was off to a state visit to Denmark. And he said this in Copenhagen:
“Let no one misunderstand what I said. Everyone knows that my criticism [of Israel] focuses on some critical issues. It’s directed especially toward Israeli policies on Gaza,” Erdogan said in an interview with Politiken, a Danish newspaper. “As long as Israel denies Palestinians the right to statehood, our criticisms will continue. On the other hand, we have recognized Israel’s existence within 1967 borders based on a two-state solution.”
Secondly, suddenly there were reports all over the place that bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel are thawing.
In the last months, there have been numerous signs that both countries may be in the process of restoring their political relations. Several high-level meetings have taken place, including the heads of intelligence in Cairo. Besides, far away from the political upheaval, bilateral trade did not really suffer and its volume is in fact at its highest level in history.
My long term readers will remember that even after the Mavi Marmara incident, during the sound and fury months, I suggested that nothing of substance was affected, including trade volume and military relations. It looks like this is now being mentioned as a sudden thaw.

And the Israeli apology that just came through shows how the American push is instrumental in all this.
A statement issued by Mr Netanyahu's office said that in the telephone conversation with Mr Erdogan he had expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral ties and noted his "commitment to working out the disagreements in order to advance peace and regional stability". 
"The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life," it added.
"In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologised to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation." 
The two leaders had also agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territories, the statement said.

A statement from Mr Erdogan's office said the two prime ministers had agreed on making arrangements for compensation for families of the dead activists.
"Erdogan told Benjamin Netanyahu that he valued centuries-long strong friendship and co-operation between the Turkish and Jewish nations," it added.
Can you doubt the American resolve to bring stability to the region after this statement?

It is not just Netanyahu, they got a very agreeable quotes from both sides.

Expect more about the Palestinian peace process in the coming weeks.

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