Erdogan Discredited as Mediator After Davos Row

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's stormy exit from a panel discussion on the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip at the Davos summit has discredited him as a mediator in the region, says Baha Güngör

Photo: AP
Erdogan storms past Peres and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon

​​Recep Tayyip Erdogan's performance at the World Economic Forum in Davos has destroyed any hopes that had been pinned on him to act a mediator in the Middle East conflict.

Erdogan was seated next to Israeli President Shimon Peres, UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa. The topic of the panel discussion moderated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius was the recent war in Gaza.

Unequal treatment

Erdogan enjoyed special attention during the debate because Turkey has been a member of the NATO since 1952, has wanted to join the European Union for decades and has recently been highly praised for its efforts to mediate between Syria and Israel.

The moderator of the panel discussion is to be largely blamed for the spat because he gave Mussa and Erdogan only 12 minutes each to speak while Peres had 25 minutes to air his views.

Peres' emotional and partly vociferous defense of his country's brutal war against the Palestinians - which was conducted without consideration towards the civilian population, international aid groups on the ground or the United Nations - raised Erdogan's hackles.

His reaction may have been appropriate and even justified. Peres provided him with the right to counter by asking what Turkey would have done if rockets had landed in Istanbul.

Occasion for a show of populism

photo: dpa
Erdogan was treated like a hero by thousands of cheering supporters

​​But Erdogan struck a wrong note and went too far in his response. His anger rose as the moderator attempted to end the discussion in order to stick to the time limit and get out in time for dinner.

Erdogan has opened himself to accusations that he used the occasion for a show of populism in order to strengthen his religious-conservative AKP party's fortunes in local elections on March 29, despite the fact that a victory is already a foregone conclusion.

A spontaneous demonstration by more than 5,000 supporters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags welcoming Erdogan upon his arrived in Istanbul shows that such tactics go down well with his compatriots.

But his verbal attacks against Peres and the moderator as well as his announcement to skip Davos next year show that Erdogan can't be taken seriously as a Mideast mediator anymore.

A question of diplomatic tact

The Turkish prime minister is naturally upset that his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert lied when asked in Ankara a day before the Israeli offensive began whether Israel would attack Gaza. At the time, Olmert clearly said "no."

Still, Erdogan should have shown more diplomatic tact. He's the leader of a large country which is an important player regarding regional peace. Erdogan is not going to earn respect or prizes as a peacemaker and mediator on the world stage if he acts like a center-forward from a Istanbul district football team - which he, by the way, once was.

Erdogan's attempts to reiterate his friendship with Israel and the Jewish people after the spat can no longer limit the damage done to his image and to Turkey's.

Baha Güngör

© Deutsche Welle 2009

Baha Güngör is the director of DW's Turkish service

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