Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) talks flanked by Israeli President Shimon Peres during a debate called "Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace" on the second day of the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 29, 2009. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of an impassioned debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres about the Gaza war at the Davos forum. Erdogan said he would not come back to Davos after being cut off by the moderator because of time constraints on the debate.

In Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey walked off the stage after an angry exchange with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, during a panel discussion on Gaza at the World Economic Forum on 29 January, 2009, and vowed never to return to the annual gathering.

Erdogan apparently became incensed after he was prevented by the moderator from responding to remarks by Peres on the recent Israeli attack. The panel was running late and Peres was to have had the last word, participants said.

Panel discussions at Davos are strictly restricted to one hour, but Erdogan insisted on responding to Peres. Red faced, and with one hand grasping the arm of the moderator, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Erdogan turned to the Israeli president.

" Peres, you are older than me," he said. "Your voice comes out in a very high tone. And the high tone of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience. My voice, however, will not come out in the same tone."

Resisting efforts by Ignatius to end the session, Erdogan continued, saying to Peres, "When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill."

Eventually, the prime minister gathered up his papers and departed from the stage, saying, "And so Davos is over for me from now on."

Peres pointed a finger at the departing Erdogan and told him that Turkey would have reacted the same way had rockets been falling on Istanbul, participants said. But the Israeli president called Erdogan five minutes later to apologize for any misunderstanding, saying that his words had not been directed at the prime minister personally, the semi-official Anatolian Agency reported.

In a news conference immediately following the panel discussion, Erdogan said that he was particularly upset with Ignatius, who he said had failed to direct a balanced and impartial panel.

By all accounts, the discussion of the Gaza incursion was a lively one, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, joining Peres and Erdogan. For the most part, participants said, Peres was alone in defending the Israeli role in Gaza, which is why he was given the final 25 minutes to speak. Earlier, Erdogan had spoken for 12 minutes about the sufferings of the Palestinians.
While Erdogan has strongly criticized the Israeli military action in Gaza, his country and Israel have long enjoyed close diplomatic relations. With its strong relations with the militant group Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, Erdogan's Justice and Development Party has played an increasingly important role mediating among Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan clashed with Shimon Peres, whose voice had risen as he made an impassioned defence of Israel's actions, jabbing his finger. Erdogan said Peres had spoken so loudly to conceal his "guilt".

He accused the moderator of not allowing him to speak and said he did not think he would return to Davos.

The Turkish PM stressed later that he had left the debate not because of his disagreements with Peres but because he had been given much less time to speak than the Israeli leader. Turkey is one of the few Muslim countries to have dealings with Israel, but relations have been under strain since the Islamist-rooted AK Party was elected to power in 2002. Erdogan was cut off as he attempted to reply to Peres.

the Turkish Prime Minister had made an address himself, describing Gaza as an "open-air prison".

When the audience applauded Peres, he said: "I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. You killed people. And I think that it is very wrong."

The moderator, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, had given him a minute to reply, then asked him to finish, saying that people needed to go to dinner.

"I do not think I will be coming back to Davos after this because you do not let me speak," Erdogan shouted before marching off the stage in front of Peres, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and an elite audience of ministers and international officials.
Peres had told the audience Israel was forced on to the offensive against Hamas by thousands of rockets and mortars fired into Israel.

"The tragedy of Gaza is not Israel, it is Hamas," the Israeli leader said.
"Why did they fire rockets? There was no siege against Gaza. Why did they fight us, what did they want? There was never a day of starvation in Gaza."

He argued that Erdogan would have reacted in the same way if rockets had hit Istanbul.
More than 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis were killed during the three-week conflict which began on 27 December.

Erdogan later complained that he had been allowed to speak for just 12 minutes compared with 25 for Peres.

"I did not target at all in any way the Israeli people, President Peres or the Jewish people," he said.

"I am a prime minister, a leader who has expressly stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity."

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