Europe, Turkey and the Middle East: Is Harmonisation Possible?

By Aras, Bulent; Bicakci, Salih | East European Quarterly, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Europe, Turkey and the Middle East: Is Harmonisation Possible?


Aras, Bulent, Bicakci, Salih, East European Quarterly


The possibility of Turkey joining the European Union has spurred heated debate within the EU, bur it is also captivating the entire Middle East. This interest has been interpreted in Turkey as a clear signal that Ankara has emerged as a powerful regional actor. The change in language and rhetoric of Turkish policymakers is clearly visible and bears considerable influence on foreign policy. In this line of thought, Turkey's reform process paved the way for a number of structural changes in the domestic landscape, which also changed foreign policy attitudes toward the Middle East. What has suddenly given formerly inward-looking Turkish politicians this newfound self-assurance that they can influence regional politics? What promise does Turkey hold for the region? Did Turkey's perception of the Middle East change? What will be the priority areas in Turkey's new policy toward the Middle East? Can Turkey really contribute to EU policies of enhancing regional security and stability? Why would the EU care about Turkish positions in the Middle East?

Indeed, Turkey's new ruling elite is confident that their country can play an active peacemaking role in the Middle East. The process that we will focus on in this article is the Europeanization of Turkey's policy toward a number of Middle Eastern problems. We will analyze the emergence of a European Turkey and harmonisation of Turkish and European attitudes in the Middle East. Although Turkey's EU aspirations and progress gained momentum in the past several years, a historical analysis denotes that Turkey has been closer to EU positions on a wide range of issues, contrary to the widespread belief that Ankara follows a pro-U.S. stance in the Middle East. Within the limit and scope of an article, we chose Turkish and European attitudes toward the Palestinian question visa-vis the emerging harmonisation of Turkish and European foreign policy lines in the region. Following the historical analysis, which will focus more on developments in the recent era, we will also discuss Turkey's possible role in enhancing a more active, dynamic, timely and influential EU policy toward the Middle East.

Historical Background

In 1969, Turkey joined the Islamic Conference Organization as an observer and then right-wing Suleyman Demirel government regarded the conference as a political, not religious, meeting, concerned only with the fire at the Aqsa Mosque and the status of Jerusalem. (1) Turkey remained neutral and was able to act as a balance between opposing camps. For example, at the Rabat Conference in 1969, Turkey opposed a resolution that called for all the participants to end diplomatic relations with Israel. (2) The members of the European Community had limited progress in developing a common attitude towards the question until the Hague Summit of 1-2 December 1969. (3) On the eve of the 1967 Six-Day war, European countries were stuck in their domestic considerations. For example, the 1967 war was a turning point for French-Israeli relations, and France adopted its critical position of Israeli policies in international circles. Israel had German support vis-a-vis the French attitude of supporting an Arab, anti-Israeli line in its Middle East policy. Germany's support of Israel was largely due to the change of policy under Konrad Adenauer, who initiated a reparation plan for holocaust victims and their relatives. (4)

The resistance to pursue various positions continued among European countries, despite attempts to adopt a common position. Even during the meeting of the Heads of State in Rome, they acted in different ways. For instance, France condemned Israel and supported the Arabs at the UN; the Netherlands positioned itself in a favourable manner to Israel; Germany proclaimed its "neutrality" but strongly backed Israel; eminent Italian governing families divided into two groups--the Fanfanis (close to the Arabs) and the Saragat (close to Israel); Belgium tried to find recourse in the UN institutions. …

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