Pro-Hamas Turkey and U.S. Will Co-Chair Obama-Backed Counter-Terror Forum--Israel Not Included

Patrick Goodenough | September 16, 2011 | 5:02am EDT
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seen here with President Obama in Ankara in April 2009, says he does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist group. (AP Photo)

( – The United States and Turkey will co-chair a new global counterterrorism body to be launched on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week, despite Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declared support for Hamas.

Eleven of the 30 founding members of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc that says violent attacks by those under “occupation” does not constitute terrorism.

Israel, meanwhile, is not among the GCTF founding members.

The GCTF is a “signature initiative” in what the Obama administration is calling its “smart power approach to counterterrorism.” It was created at a G8 summit last May in Deauville, France, where a declaration by the gathered leaders said the forum would be “aimed at strengthening the international consensus in the fight against terrorism.”

Apart from the co-chairs, the group includes OIC members Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; European nations Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland as well as the European Union; and a cross of section of others – Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and South Africa.

In a speech in New York earlier this month unveiling the “smart power approach to counterterrorism,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the founding group as “traditional allies, emerging powers and Muslim-majority countries.”

She said the GCTF would be the first ever “dedicated international venue to regularly convene key counterterrorism policy makers and practitioners from around the world.”

“Together, we will work to identify threats and weaknesses, devise solutions, mobilize resources, share expertise and best practices,” Clinton added. “This will improve international coordination, but it will also help countries address terrorist threats within their own borders and regions.”

A State Department fact sheet says the move “is based on a recognition that the U.S. alone cannot eliminate every terrorist or terrorist organization. Rather, the international community must come together to assist countries as they work to confront the terrorist threat.”

Israel’s exclusion from the founders’ list is glaring, given that it is among the world’s leading targets of terrorism – and arguably leads the world in the policies and practices it has developed in response to the threat.

It is unclear whether Israel wanted to join and was turned down, or was not interested in joining. Queries sent to the State Department’s GCTF coordinator and the Israeli government brought no response.

What is clear is that the Obama administration would have found resistance among some OIC members had the Jewish state been brought into the initiative, particularly from those especially hostile towards Israel, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia – and Turkey.

Furthermore, one of the key elements in the initiative, according to the fact sheet, is “the first-ever multilateral training and research center focused on countering violent extremism, which would be based in the Gulf region.” If Israel was a member, its experts would not be able to contribute to the planned center, as Israeli passport holders are not permitted to visit Gulf states – and in some cases even an Israeli stamp on another country’s passport will preclude entry.

Turkey played an important role in the planning of the GCTF, and one of two preparatory meetings was held in Istanbul (the other was in Washington last January).

Turkey’s prominent role in the initiative comes at a time when its relations with Israel are on ice, after Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning government rejected a U.N. report on a deadly May 2010 Israeli navy raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla led by a Turkish ship and announced a series of sanctions against its former ally.

During a visit to Egypt last week Erdogan railed repeatedly against Israel, accusing it of “illegitimate and unhuman behaviors” and calling it the biggest obstacle to peace in the region.

He also has placed Turkey at the forefront of the international effort to seek U.N. recognition for a Palestinian state next week.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who addressed the Arab League in Cairo on Tuesday, September 13, has vowed to isolate Israel internationally over the flotilla affair. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Turkey is a member of NATO and a longstanding ally of the U.S. But under Erdogan, it has challenged the official U.S. position on Hamas, the Islamist group with a long history of deadly terror attacks against Israel, designated by Washington as a “foreign terrorist organization” since 1995.

Since seizing power in Gaza in 2007, Hamas has used the territory to launch rocket and other attacks against Israel. In conjunction with its partners in the so-called Mideast “Quartet” – Russia, the European Union and the U.N. – the U.S. has refused to deal with Hamas unless it recognizes Israel, renounces violence, and adheres to previous agreements signed between Israel and Palestinian leaders.

But Erdogan disputes that Hamas is a terrorist organization. In 2004 he called Israel’s killing of Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin a helicopter missile strike in Gaza “a terrorist act,” and in February 2006 Turkey opened talks with Hamas leaders. The Turkey-Israel rift widened after the Israeli military offensive against Hamas in 2008-9.

“Let me give you a very clear message, I don’t see Hamas as a terror organization,” he told interviewer Charlie Rose last May. “It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation.”

Noting that Hamas had won Palestinian Authority legislative elections in 2006, he said that “calling them terrorists, this would be disrespect to the will of the Palestinian people.”

A year earlier he told Turkish media, “Hamas is a resistance group fighting to defend their land. They won the elections in Palestine. But they are serving time in Israeli prisons though they won the elections. I also told these to U.S. officials. I don't accept Hamas as a terrorist organization.”

‘Armed struggle against foreign occupation’

In a statement last week the Turkish embassy in Washington called Turkey “one of the leading countries in the fight against international terrorism.”

“Together with the international community, Turkey is determined to continue its fight against all forms of terrorism,” it said.

“Until Turkey and its allies among Arab states recognize that terrorism is a black and white phenomenon, and cannot be justified by Turkey’s political whims, the forum is little more than a sick joke,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin wrote after Clinton announced the launch of the GCTF.

“In the Turkish government and foreign ministry’s view, if the victim is Kurdish, it is terrorism, but if the victim is Jewish, it is deserved. Until the Turkish regime is willing to stop its embrace of Hamas, they should receive no legitimacy in the counterterrorism fight,” he argued.

Turkey is not alone among the GCTF founding group to distinguish between some terrorist groups and activities and others.

For more than a decade the OIC and its member-states have held up agreement on a legally-binding international global convention against terrorism, because it insists that any definition of terrorism must explicitly exclude actions taken by people under occupation.

The OIC’s 1999 Convention on Combating Terrorism declares that, “Peoples’ struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”

The main reason for that stance is the Islamic world’s support for the Palestinian cause, although such an exclusion would also provide cover for attacks against India in disputed Kashmir.

India has long accused Pakistan of supporting violent groups fighting to end its control over part of the Himalayan territory, which is divided between the two (with China controlling a small portion) and claimed by both. Pakistani governments have denied this, saying they lend moral support only to the Kashmiris’ “struggle for self determination.”

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