By Arab News
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted Israel and said recognition of a Palestinian state is an “obligation,” as he kicked off in Egypt a tour to bolster Ankara’s ties with new Arab regimes.
“A Palestinian child crying in Gaza wrenches a mother’s heart in Ankara,” he said.
The prime minister also presented his country as a model for an Arab world, giving advice on everything from balancing secularism and Islam to challenging Israel during a high-profile visit to Egypt aimed at advancing his growing status as a regional leader.
Addressing Arab foreign ministers as he started a three-nation Arab Spring tour, he also said governments should not use force to repress the legitimate demands of their people.
And he reiterated that strained ties with Israel will not improve unless the Jewish state apologizes over the death of nine Turks killed in a raid on an aid flotilla that tried to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza.
“Recognizing the Palestinian state is not an option, it is an obligation,” Erdogan said in Cairo, as the Palestinians seek support for a UN membership bid they plan to launch next week.
“Before the end of this year we will see Palestine at the UN in a very different situation,” he said.
“It is time for the flag of Palestine to be hoisted at the UN.”
The Palestinians are preparing to submit a formal request to become the 194th member of the UN when the General Assembly begins its meetings on September 20, despite US and Israeli opposition.
The Palestinian bid has triggered controversy.
US President Barack Obama on Monday said it was a “distraction” that would not result in viable statehood, while Russia said it will back the Palestinians as the European Union remains divided.
And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the path to a two-state solution creating a Palestinian state beside Israel runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not through New York.
Speaking at a news conference in Washington, Clinton repeated the US view that the Palestinians should not seek full membership in the UN and instead should resume direct talks with the Israelis.
She said she is sending two US envoys, David Hale and Dennis Ross, to Israel and the Palestinian territories to try to find a way to revive talks.
A small group of Arab foreign ministers led by Qatar’s top diplomat earlier agreed to marshal support for the Palestinian bid.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani said as he chaired Tuesday’s Arab League meeting that the Palestinian cause “is the main challenge” facing the 22-member bloc.
“We thank all the countries that have recognized the Palestinian state and we look forward to (further) support for the Palestinian bid for UN membership,” Sheikh Hamad said.
Some 127 countries recognized Palestine as an independent state and the Palestinians hope to garner more than 160 votes at the General Assembly for their cause and would not spare an effort to seek full UN membership.
Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi said “consultations and communications will continue in order to reach the goal” of Palestinian UN membership.
Erdogan, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause who has become a strident critic of Israel, said Turkey and the Arabs must “work hand in hand with our Palestinian brothers.”
“The Palestinian cause is the cause of human dignity,” said Erdogan.
Turning to Israel, Erdogan said: “It is out of the question for Turkey to normalize ties with Israel” unless it apologizes for last year’s deadly flotilla raid, pays compensation and lifts a blockade imposed on Gaza.
“Israel sees itself above the law,” he said, accusing the Jewish state of “turning a deaf ear” to Turkey’s demands.
Earlier this month Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military ties and defense trade over Israel’s refusal to apologize for the flotilla raid, in which nine Turks were killed.
Much admired on the Arab street, Erdogan is on an Arab Spring tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya where pro-democracy uprisings unseated veteran leaders.
About 3,000 people greeted him at Cairo airport when he arrived with his wife, children, six cabinet ministers and a huge business delegation to bolster ties with the most populous Arab nation.
On Tuesday, he said at the Arab League that “the legitimate demands of the people cannot be repressed with force and in blood,” in reference to the uprisings that swept Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and continue to rock Syria.
“Freedom and democracy and human rights must be a united slogan for the future of our people,” he said.
Later he said the revolution that ousted veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February had been a “historic” one, adding that Turkey supports Egypt “in good times and bad times.”
“History was made at Tahrir Square and this means a lot to us,” he said of the central Cairo landmark where protesters camped for 18 days until they forced Mubarak to quit.
“Each birth has complications… but we in Turkey believe that the Egyptian people will overcome successfully all the obstacles,” he added.
Erdogan who will head Wednesday to Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, and then Libya, warned however that “some people are trying to exploit the Arab Spring.”
He also met Egypt’s new military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to discuss building “strategic ties” between the two countries and bolstering economic cooperation.
Sharaf said they had agreed to raise the volume of bilateral trade from its current level of three billion dollars annually to five billion in the next few years.
Sharaf said closer cooperation was also in the interest of the region, adding that Turkey can be “Egypt’s gateway to Europe” and Egypt can be “Turkey’s gateway to Africa.”