The SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. presents
The New Middle East: A Year after the First Flotilla
Friday, June 24, 2011
Human Rights Attorney and Activist
Director, The SETA Foundation
Moderator: Kilic Kanat, Syracuse University
by Daniel Ritchie&Maggie Simon
As civilian initiatives, humanitarian flotillas destined for Gaza have proven to have significant political and diplomatic repercussions for regional dynamics. What kind of impact did the first flotilla, still a salient point of contention, have on the region as a whole? Given the emerging dynamics of the Arab Spring, in what ways will the forthcoming flotilla be different? More than a year after the first flotilla, and with a second flotilla scheduled, SETA’s panelists sought to answer these questions.
Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney and activist, began the discussion by providing a brief overview of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and the legal implications surrounding it and the first flotilla incident. “Aside from being a devastating attack last May,” Erakat stated, “the flotilla did something quite phenomenal, in the sense that for the first time it raised the issue of the blockade of Gaza to a level of public discourse in places that it hadn’t been before.” Erakat explained that following Hamas’s 2007 assumption of power in Gaza, Israel immediately declared it hostile territory and initiated the blockade in the name of self-defense, while also maintaining that Gaza has not been an occupied territory since 2005. This, Erakat argued, is an attempt by Israel to circumvent international law regarding the treatment of occupied civilians, including the duty to maintain peace and order. Erakat asserted that Israel maintains “effective control” over Gaza, making it de facto occupied territory, and the crippling blockade on Gaza illegal. The flotilla was described by Erakat as an act of civil disobedience designed to highlight the illegal blockade of Gaza and the morally offensive plight of its people.
Yigal Schleifer, an independent journalist, followed Erakat by discussing Turkish-Israeli relations. He began by providing some historical depth to the close, yet fragile, Turkish-Israeli relations, arguing that the traditional reasons for Turkish-Israeli cooperation, namely Cold War architecture and the predominance of Kemalism, have now become irrelevant. “I think that after a year after [the flotilla], both Turkey and Israel are still trying to recalibrate… their relationship,” Schleifer stated. He argued that from the Israeli perspective, the flotilla incident was a “traumatic event,” which opened the eyes of the Israelis to a new reality in Turkish-Israeli relations by “forcing Israel to confront the loss of Turkey as its only Muslim ally in the region.” Schleifer maintained that Israel has consistently misread Turkey and the AKP, and is finding itself increasingly marginalized in the region. According to Schleifer, Israel does not fit into Turkey’s “neighborhood policy,” where very little has been done to foster cooperation and integration. This increased isolation, Schleifer argued, is not good for peace in the region, as it bolsters the more polarizing elements of the societies.
SETA-DC’s Director Nuh Yılmaz focused on the structural conditions surrounding the flotilla incident. Yılmaz asserted, “What is going on in the region is a result of what’s going on in Turkey in terms of the state structure, and in terms of Turkish foreign policy.” He maintained that Turkey’s desire to become more influential in the region manifests itself in Turkey’s neighborhood policy, and that the continued integration of the region runs counter to Israeli strategic interests. He also argued that Israel was not placed outside Turkey’s neighborhood policy, but that Israel does not support the underlying principles of Turkey’s foreign policy, and thus has not been incorporated into the push for regional integration. “So I think the main reason of this conflict is not the conflict between the two countries, but the conflict between the two different regional policies,” stated Yılmaz. He highlighted that the growing friction between the two countries cannot be reduced simply to a specific incident, like the flotilla, but must be viewed in the larger context of the two approaches in dealing with the region.
Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor of international human rights law in the Middle East at Georgetown University and the Legal Advocacy Coordinator for the Badil Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights. Most recently she served as Legal Counsel for a Congressional Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, chaired by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich. She has helped to initiate and organize several national formations including Arab Women Arising for Justice (AMWAJ) and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN). Her numerous publications include "Litigating the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Politicization of U.S. Federal Courts" in the Berkeley Law Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Law and "Arabiya Made Invisible: Between the Marginalization of Agency and the Silencing of Dissent" in a Syracuse Press anthology.
Yigal Schleifer is a Washington-based independent journalist/analyst who covers Turkish foreign and domestic affairs. Between 2002 and 2010 he lived in Istanbul, where he worked as a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and the German Press Agency (dpa). He blogs regularly about Turkish politics at istanbulcalling.blogspot.com.
Nuh Yilmaz is the director of SETA Foundation at Washington DC. Mr. Yilmaz has widely published on Turkey’s new foreign policy orientations, U.S. foreign policy, Turkish politics, energy security, US-Turkey relations, and is a frequent commentator for the Turkish media on these topics. He has taught aesthetics, critical theory, and Turkish Politics in the US and in Canada. Mr. Yilmaz received his BS in Sociology from Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, and completed his M.F.A in Graphic Design from Bilkent University. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at George Mason University’s Cultural Studies Program. Mr. Yilmaz has served as the Washington representative for Turkish media outlets STAR, 24 Haber, and CNNTürk. He currently serves as the Washington Bureau Chief for Turkish TV channel, ATV. His comments and writings have been featured by major media outlets including Al-Jazeera English and Arabic, BBC, Washington Times, The National, and Foreign Policy.
Kilic Bugra Kanat is a non-resident fellow at the SETA Foundation at Washington DC and a doctoral candidate in Political Science Department, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY). He received his MA in International Affairs from Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI) and his MA in Political Science from Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY). He received his undergraduate education in the International Relations and Sociology Departments of the Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey). He also holds certificates in the field of Conflict Resolution. He will be an assistant professor of Political Science at Penn State, Erie as of Fall 2011.