The Turkish government has for the first time voiced the existence of its "Plan B" against Israel if no apology comes before a July 27 deadline, a plan that will include measures to further freeze relations.

The statement comes amid an ongoing debate in the Israeli Cabinet over whether or not to formally apologize to Turkey over last year's Mavi Marmara incident.

"We are going to wait for their [Israel's] decision for a period of time. Then [if no apology comes], we will surely implement our Plan B," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters Saturday at a joint press conference with Jordanian Prime Minister Maroof al-Bakhit.

Erdoğan's statement came just a day before the Israeli Cabinet was to hold a key meeting on the matter. Relations have been strained between Turkey and Israel since Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish people May 31, 2010, aboard a vessel carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza.

Ankara has demanded that Israel issue a formal apology, pay compensation to the families of the victims and lift its sea blockade on Gaza if it wants to mend ties with Turkey. A U.N. panel is set to announce its report on the May 31 incident on July 27, barring last-minute delays.

According to information obtained by the Hürriyet Daily News, the "Plan B" mentioned by Erdoğan will have a strong impact on further degrading relations between the two countries. One of the most important moves would be further reducing Turkey's level of diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv. After the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey canceled the appointment of Kerim Uras as ambassador to Tel Aviv in a show of reaction. If Israel refuses to apologize, the current level of diplomatic representation, charge d'affaires, would be reduced to the level of second secretary.

Diplomatic sources told the Daily News on Sunday, however, that the government in Ankara was still hopeful about seeing an Israeli apology and that in order not to give a wrong message, Uras' appointment to a post other than Israel had once again been postponed. Uras was excluded from the Foreign Ministry's summer reshuffle, signaling that he would still be appointed to Tel Aviv if relations normalized.

Reducing Turkey's diplomatic representation would also affect Israel's plans to appoint an ambassador to Ankara in the upcoming months if current envoy Gabby Levy's plans to return his country can be carried out. Israel fears its new envoy would not be able to get a credential from Ankara if relations remain frozen.

Trip to Gaza

Erdoğan had previously announced plans to visit Gaza, but said this trip had nothing to do with the current crisis with Israel. The Daily News has learned, however, that this was part of the government's Plan B.

"We are not aiming to create an environment of tension. Our friends [in the Foreign Ministry] are going to be working on it and this trip [to Gaza] will be realized if these works reveal a positive development," Erdoğan told reporters. "It would be wrong to consider this linked to apology, compensation or lifting [of the Gaza] blockade."

Erdoğan plans to enter to Gaza through the Rafah border with Egypt after a visit to Cairo in the coming months. The date of his visit to Cairo has not yet been fixed.

The prime minister's statement about a possible Gaza visit has the potential to cause concerns in the West, particularly in the United States, especially as it comes before Palestine's planned application to the United Nations in September to be recognized as a sovereign state.

Ankara is also mulling a number of other diplomatic and legal measures that would have serious effects on its ties with Israel. However, the government prefers to see the UN panel's final report and make an in-depth analysis to decide on future steps against Israel, especially in the field of international jurisdiction.

Palestine Looks for U.S. Support at UN

U.S. officials have declared they will veto a Palestinian bid to be recognized as a state by the United Nations in the event the would-be country bring its bid for statehood to the Security Council, according to Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki.

"We will tell the UN that you are the ones who are responsible for the creation of a fight and the creation of the Palestinian problem, and now we are bringing back the file to you. (…) We hope the U.S. administration will change their mind and we will be 194th member state of the U.N.," al-Malki told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Sunday.

Palestinians are getting prepared to seek recognition from the UN General Assembly in September.

Al-Malki said that when they sent the Palestinian main negotiator, Saeb Erekat, to meet the American officials regarding their statehood recognition bid, high-ranking U.S. officials told them, "If you bring the issue to the Security Council, we do not have any other choice but to veto it."

Al-Malki said Israel was also against the recognition of the Palestinian state and Jewish communities around the world were trying to convince many countries to say "no" to the Palestinian request for membership.

"This is a diplomatic battle for us. It is between us, Israel and the U.S.," said al-Malki.

Al-Malki said they had the support of many countries around the world.

"We have support from the Islamic Conference Organization [OIC], countries in Africa, South America, etc…We have no problem in managing to get the support of the majority in the U.N. General Assembly. But if we apply for membership, it means the Security Council has to vote. If the U.S. vetoes that request, then we have to go to the General Assembly. We will play that process and we will see how things will go on. Our preparation for September is excellent," al-Malki said.

Al-Malki also said they would try to get recognized by as many countries as possible by September. "We should make the 100 percent effort. I will be going to many countries around the world, so will the President Mahmoud Abbas. We will be able to mobilize things faster," said the foreign minister.

'UN is Responsible for the Fight'

The UN has created the Palestinian issue and it had the moral, historical and political responsibility to look at this matter and to decide what should be done with the Palestinian question al-Malki said.

"We cannot stay forever stateless. Since the war in 1967, we have been under Israeli occupation. So I think now the time has come for the Palestinian state to be created and to be established," said the foreign minister.

Al-Malki said according to UN procedure, they had to present a letter to the Secretary General of the UN asking for membership in the UN According to the rules, the Security Council has to set up a committee to review the application if it fulfills the requirements.

U.S. Asks for Action from Turkey for Reconciliation

The United States is pressing Ankara to move toward rapprochement with Yerevan following the collapse of talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan last month to discuss the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

"The time is right for normalization. Some action to get the process moving, to give [it] momentum would be fine," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Turkish officials July 16 during a visit to Turkey.

Azerbaijan and Armenia had earlier failed to come to an agreement over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh during a June meeting in Kazan, Russia. The U.S. was reportedly infuriated by Baku's U-turn during the talks.

The Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process has been blocked by Azerbaijan, which indirectly threatened to stop supplying natural gas to Turkey and to give Russia preference as its main energy partner. Turkey and Armenia signed two protocols to normalize relations and to open their border, sealed since the early 1990s, but both countries failed to ratify the accords due to domestic pressure. Turkey said ratification would only be possible after Armenia and Azerbaijan reach an agreement over Nagorno-Karabakh. Hopes for a deal disappeared after Baku rejected such an agreement in Kazan and criticized Armenia's approach.

A flashpoint of the Caucasus, the region known as Nagorno-Karabakh is a constituent part of Azerbaijan that has been occupied by Armenia since the end of 1994. While internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, the enclave has declared it an independent republic but is administered as a de facto part of Armenia.

With the U.S. home to a several-million-strong Armenian diaspora pressing the administration to recognize Armenian claims of genocide in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, Washington is seeking the completion of the process between Ankara and Yerevan. The top U.S. diplomat said they understood the domestic difficulties in the ratification of the protocols but hinted there could some other action to keep the momentum alive.

As reported by the Hürriyet Daily News last week, a set of confidence-building measures are planned to this end, starting with direct flights from Yerevan to the eastern province of Van, a destination for many Armenians who wish to visit an ancient Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van.

According to the Armenian press, a member of the Van Chamber of Commerce, Abdullah Tunçdemir, said the Yerevan-Van flights would begin Sept. 11 if the Van airport could be upgraded to meet international standards. Another planned measure is to open a Turkish Airlines, or THY, office in Yerevan to coordinate Armenians' flights to the United States via Istanbul.

Such steps will, on the one hand, give a strong signal to Baku that its refusal to deal with Armenia will not stop Turkish-Armenian rapprochement; on the other hand, they will also help relieve growing pressure on the Turkish and American administrations from the Armenian diaspora.

Turkey's move to begin flights between Van and Yerevan has drawn a reaction from Azerbaijan. "We do not interfere in the affairs of two countries, but we still reserve the right to respond in the event of an infringement of the national interests of Azerbaijan," Elman Abdullayev, the first secretary of the Azerbaijani press service MFA, told the Trend news agency in response to the possible flights.

"Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry is following the developments and will react according to the future scenario," said Abdullayev.

Four Soldiers Killed in Weekend Clashes with PKK

Suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, shot dead three Turkish soldiers in an ambush late Saturday night in a village in the southeastern province of Mardin, security sources said Sunday.

The three soldiers had been returning from the village of İkipinar to their military gendarmerie post when they were ambushed by PKK militants, the sources said.

Two of the soldiers killed, noncommissioned officer Erhan Gül and Sgt. Ali Öztürk, were from the southeastern province of Gaizantep, while noncommissioned officer Sadık Güllü was from the Central Anatolian province of Kırıkkale.

Güllü's father told reporters that he had asked his son not to go to Mardin. "But he said, 'Don't worry father, it is safe here.' He went for duty and became a martyr," Ali Güllü was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

The bodies of the soldiers were taken to the military hospital in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır and will be sent to their hometowns after autopsies are conducted.

The attack comes at a time of heightened clashes between Turkey's armed forces and PKK militants in the country's southeast and amid a parliamentary boycott by deputies of a pro-Kurdish party.

Ten days ago, Turkey's chief of General Staff said grenades thrown by militants ignited a fire in a heavily forested area in Diyarbakır province, killing 13 soldiers and wounding seven.

The PKK ended its six-month-old unilateral cease-fire in February and moved to what it calls an "active defense" stance, whereby its fighters defend themselves if threatened.

The jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, sent word through his lawyers earlier this month that he had agreed with Turkish officials to set up a "peace council" aimed at ending the 27-year conflict, in which 40,000 people have died.

Öcalan said the council should be formed within one month, though it was unclear what form it would take.

Opposition Slams Government, Says New Anti-Terror Plan Shows Defeat

The government's plan to boost the role of the police in fighting terror was harshly criticized over the weekend by opposition party leaders, who said the country was admitting defeat and returning to a violent period.

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu compared the increasing acts of terror today to the situation in the early 1990s, when terrorist attacks peaked.

"If we are back to the early 1990s, despite all the efforts, then that means political institutions are not doing their jobs [in resolving the longstanding Kurdish issue]," Kılıçdaroğlu said. "The 1990s were a bad time. All attempts to improve the situation failed, and there were many unsolved murders."

The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, Chief Devlet Bahçeli, meanwhile, said replacing military troops with police officers in the mountainous and rural regions where the battle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was being waged is not only a bad idea, but also a declaration that the fight against terror was being lost.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

"This is a clear declaration that the fight against terror has failed, with the blame being put on the TSK [Turkish Armed Forces]," Bahçeli said in a written statement. He added that the new role for the police could further increase unfair accusations against the TSK.

"I wonder what will happen when they send inexperienced police officers to the mountains instead of trained and seasoned soldiers," the MHP chief said, adding that the TSK could solve the terror problem if the government supported it. Bahçeli also criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for even considering democratic autonomy for the country's Kurds, saying that would put the ruling party on the same page as the PKK.

Kılıçdaroğlu also criticized the AKP's failure to solve the Kurdish issue.

"The address for Turkey's problems, including the Kurdish issue, unemployment, the economic crisis and the problem faced by the media, is the CHP," the main opposition leader told journalists Saturday.

The CHP chief said his party did not know why the AKP had issued its new plan to include police forces more prominently in the fight against terror.

"I guess their previous attempts were not enough, and they're starting a new process," Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that the AKP had failed to keep many promises made as part of its Kurdish initiative.

In his statement, Bahçeli called attention to the clashes between pro- and anti-PKK groups taking place in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu and Dolapdere neighborhoods, calling it an indication that the "bandits" from the mountains had now moved to the cities in an attempt to divide and provoke Turkish and Kurdish people.

Turkey Heading for More Ethnic Polarization

Tension following the deaths of 13 soldiers in Southeast Anatolia has spread across much of Turkey, with pro-Kurdish political party headquarters assailed with stones and a Kurdish performer protested for singing in her mother tongue.

As the clashes continue, leading academics and other experts have criticized politicians and the media for casting blame rather than making an effort to solve the issue.

"I cannot believe that instead of really addressing the issue, the politicians are speaking like taxi drivers in answering each other," Bekir Ağırdır, the general manager of the research firm KONDA, told the Hürriyet Daily News this week. KONDA recently published a survey showing that polarization between Turkish and Kurdish people in Turkey is quite high.

The tension has ramped up following a July 14 terrorist attack by members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, that killed 13 troops in Diyarbakır's Silvan district.

A subsequent clash between PKK supporters and opponents in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu district lasted several days, only ending with police intervention, while some construction workers of Kurdish origin in the Black Sea province of Trabzon and the eastern province of Erzurum have claimed they were driven out of town after being attacked on the job.

Following the announcement of the terrorist attack, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: "There is no Kurdish issue in this country. There is a PKK problem in this country. The terror organization and its [sympathizers] should not expect goodwill from us."

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Members of the group killed three more Turkish soldiers on Saturday night in the southeastern province of Mardin.

According to Ağırdır, the Kurdish issue is moving from the mountains – referring to PKK members fighting in many rural and mountainous areas of Turkey – to the Turkish Parliament. He added, however, that the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, the country's main pro-Kurdish political party, has not been successful in managing this process.

"The BDP acted childishly in going for a boycott [of Parliament]. They couldn't really use this opportunity and the [ruling party] leaders made a show out of what happened," Ağırdır said.

The BDP achieved success in the June 12 general elections by backing independent candidates for Parliament, but members of their bloc have refused to take the oath of office in protest of the continued imprisonment of their elected colleagues who are being held behind bars on terror-related charges.

"Politics is moving from being an institution toward [being] a neo-pagan ritual," Süleyman Öğün, a political scientist and professor at Istanbul's Maltepe University, told the Daily News. "Political leadership means managing the catharsis of this ritual, of which the language is violence. However, the leaders are just busy reacting to each other's comments."

Polarization Debate

While the tension rises in the country, questions have been raised in the media about how the situation will develop. According to writer and economist Mustafa Sönmez, the current discourse will only serve to take Turkey back to the 1990s, when violence among Kurdish and Turkish groups was quite common.

"Many of the PKK supporters in Istanbul are young people who migrated to western cities and the state's bureaucratic language will only cause Kurdish people to withdraw among themselves. By uttering these words they are repeating the 1990s discourse," Sönmez told the Daily News, while also criticizing the BDP for not having a constructive political agenda.

"The democratic autonomy announcement is not clear, and this shows confusion among the BDP [ranks]. Such confusion brings along speculation," Sönmez said.

On the same day as the PKK ambush in Silvan, an umbrella organization of the pro-Kurdish figures and groups, the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, announced a declaration of democratic autonomy. The unilateral announcement has been much criticized by many, including some deputies elected with the BDP's backing in last month's elections.

When asked whether the clashes might lead to bigger incidents, Sönmez expressed optimism that they would not. "My observation is that there is a strong common sense among society, so I don't expect anything big," he said.

KONDA's Ağırdır believes, however, that Turkey is walking on thin ice.

"The pro and anti-Kurdish issue is not the only one; there are polarizations among several other groups, such as Sunni and Alevi groups, though they are not seen so clearly now," Ağırdır said. "Yet when all of them come together, the violence might become quite severe. That's why politicians need to act immediately."

Ambassadors Meet Again at Commission

Former EU General Secretary Volkan Bozkır has become the new president of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission.

Some retired ambassadors who have become deputies for different political parties have also met at the commission. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's deputy executive assistant, Çağatay Kılıç, has also been assigned to this commission, while Muhammed Çetin was assigned to be Bozkır's assistant.

The other new commission members include Osman Aşkın Bak as commission speaker and Gönül Bekin as a secretary member, as well as Ali Rıza Alaboyun, Emrullah İşler, Ahmet Berat Conkar, Mehmet Muş, İsmail Safi Rıfat Sait, Abdullah Çalışkan, İdris Bal, Hasan Karal, Saban Dişli, Çağatay Kılıç and Burhan Kayatürk from the Justice and Development Party, or AKP; Faruk Loğoğlu, Mehmet Ali Ediboğlu, Oktay Ekşi, Osman Korutürk, Faik Tunay and Aytuğ Atıcı from the Republican People's Party, or CHP; and Tuğrul Türkeş, Tunca Toskay and Sinan Oğan from the Nationalist People's Party, or MHP.

Turkey to Host Sudan Summit

Turkey, along with Norway, is preparing for an important conference on Sudan after a visiting U.S. official said Turkey has an important international role to play in supporting the newborn state of South Sudan.

The meeting in Turkey will be followed by a conference on South Sudan in September, this one hosted by the United States, and also involving Turkey.

"Norway and Turkey have agreed to host a conference for Sudan, and the United States agreed to host a conference with the African Union and Turkey for South Sudan," Raja Jandhyala, the USAID deputy assistant administrator for Africa, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.

"We believe that Turkey has quite an important role to help us create a broad coalition of partners, both development and private-sector partners, to help South Sudan handle its challenges," Jandhyala said.

Referring to the situation in North Sudan and South Sudan, the U.S. official warned: "The longer [the problems] go unresolved, the greater the risk of instability is between the two. We think it is really important that they come back to the table. We urge both parties [north and south] to do so."

Many observers say the fate of the two states is interlinked as instability in one will affect the other. Jandhyala was in Ankara on Friday for talks with Turkish Foreign Ministry officials as well as the Red Crescent Society and the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency, or TİKA, focusing on how to build a broad international partnership for South Sudan after its declaration of independence early this month. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the new state.

The Turkey-Norway conference will most likely take place in Istanbul, but its details are still being negotiated with Sudan. The other "engagement" conference on South Sudan is planned in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26-27, Jandhyala said.

Despite achieving independence, South Sudan faces many challenges. Most of the oil revenues are in the south, but it is one of the world's poorest and least developed nations and has a number of unresolved disputes with the north, from the sharing of natural resources to citizenship and the border. The negotiations are led by the African Union High-level Implementation Panel.

"Even though we view independence as something that has come out of the will of the people due to the referendum vote, I think it is critical that both [sides] realize that long-term security and economic viability is dependent on good relations with each other," said Jandhyala. "We think from here on forward they still need to negotiate and conclude the outstanding issues."

Darfur Crisis

The crisis in Darfur is another matter that must be addressed. An arrest warrant has been issued by the International Criminal Court, or ICC, for Sudan's controversial president, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Turkish government drew criticism from the international community when it received al-Bashir in Turkey in 2009.

Jandhyala said she was not completely informed of the Turkish position toward al-Bashir, but that at this stage the United States was supporting the ICC process.

"President Obama and the administration believe the ICC process that has been set in motion will continue," she said. "Darfur is another issue for Khartoum that they have to resolve. We are encouraging a multi-track approach: peace talks, increasing security, allowing UN peacekeepers to deploy fully and think about humanitarian assistance where possible… Darfur is a critical part of our strategy with the north."

If Israel Makes Apology to Turkey, Lieberman Won't Quit

Israel's government partner and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said his party would not withdraw from the coalition if Israel made a formal apology for nine Turks it killed aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship back in May 2010.

"Settling the difference between two governments serves in the interests of both countries. Even if we have disagreements, we would stay with the coalition," Lieberman has said.

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