Behind the logic of the Abraham Accords was recognition that the Palestinian leadership had no one to blame but itself for lack of statehood. Israel’s existence is a reality. Palestinian rejection of statehood offers dating back to 1947 convinced Arab leaders that the sacrifice they made by prioritizing the Palestinian cause was a bad bet. Here, 2008 was a key year. If Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas could reject Jerusalem, all of Gaza, and most of the West Bank with Israeli presence adjacent to the 1949 ceasefire lines offset by land swaps, then how could he be sincere?
The outbreak of war between Israel and Gaza has shifted diplomatic attention away from broader peace to a narrow focus on Palestinian statehood. Less than three weeks after the Hamas attack on southern Israel, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared, “Palestinians must see their legitimate aspirations for an independent State realized.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken the lead on advocacy for Palestinian statehood.
It is unclear whether Erdogan is sincere about a two-state solution or rather, if he simply seeks Israel’s destruction. Whereas Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize Israel, today Erdogan competes with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to lead the rejectionist bloc. Much as Erdogan armed Al Qaeda and supported the Islamic State against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, today Turkey seeks to ship explosives to Hamas and offers Hamas leaders passports and safe haven. Diplomatically, Erdogan has gone on the offensive to toss aside Palestinian commitments under the Oslo Accords to both negotiate statehood and foreswear terrorism. Instead, he encourages unilateral declarations of statehood. Last week, his top lieutenant said recognition of Palestine was now a precondition for Turkey lifting its hold on Sweden’s NATO accession.
Erdogan has denied any terrorist label for Hamas and the atrocities the group committed against Jewish women and children. This is consistent with his Muslim Brotherhood mindset. After the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur, Erdogan explained his red carpet welcome in Ankara: “It’s not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide.”
Erdogan, however, seeks to be judge and jury on what Islam is. His interpretations leave no room for dissent. Moderation and mysticism fall outside the bounds of permissible belief. This is why he hates theologian Fethullah Gülen: Gülen interprets Islam through the lens of Anatolian Sufism rather than Muslim Brotherhood stridency. To Erdogan, the Kurds share this original sin. Turkish regime rhetoric depicts Kurds as apostates for rejecting Erdogan’s stridency and his interweaving of Turkish nationalism with Sunni extremism.
While Erdogan hurls polemics at Israel, he ignores his own hypocrisy. The Turkish Army has murdered far more Kurds than the Israel Defense Forces have killed Palestinians. For every attack launched by Kurds across the Turkish frontier, there have been several hundred Turkish air strikes on Kurdish farms, villages, and towns in Syria and Iraq. In practice, the Turkish military does not differentiate between schoolgirls, farmers, or Yezidi returnees on one hand and armed fighters on the other. While Erdogan claims Turkey to be a democracy, he imprisons the leaders of the legal Kurdish political party and ousts elected Kurdish mayors.
The reality is that Erdogan reversed the reconciliation that Turkish presidents like Turgut Özal took to end decades of systematic racism against Kurds. There is no do-over. Kurd sought negotiations and Erdogan betrayed them; they can never trust Turkey again.
So is peace possible inside Turkey? Absolutely, but it will not come upon the backs of Turkish soldiers or, as Erdogan calls them, the Army of Muhammad, but rather upon the partition of Turkey. There is an irony that while the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) dropped its separatism in favor of federalism, Erdogan today drives Turkish Kurds in the opposite direction.
Erdogan is right about a two-state solution, but he is blind to the states: It is time to create a Kurdistan Authority to negotiate the divorce. It should elect leaders, foreswear terrorism, and recognize Turkey’s right to exist. Ultimately, the future is clear: a Kurdish state with Diyarbakir as its eternal capital. Erdogan cannot object, for through his actions, he has already endorsed the precedent.
by Michael Rubin
December 16, 2023
Michael Rubin is director of policy analysis at the Middle East Forum.