The day after Turkish voters approved a sweeping package of constitutional reforms and gave Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a huge victory, the widespread feeling in Jerusalem was that while this was very much an internal, domestic issue, it will have an impact on Turkish-Israeli relations.
Erdogan, who pushed through this packet of 26 constitutional amendments, and for whom this project was as important as the healthcare reform was for US President Barack Obama, must as a result of his huge victory feel not only vindicated by public opinion, but also emboldened.
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Erdogan on Monday must feel even more bolstered than Obama did when his healthcare package passed earlier this year. For a while the healthcare deal passed almost exclusively on the strength of Democratic votes, Erdogan was able to convince some of his opponents that the constitutional reform was good for Turkish democracy.
Imagine how Obama would have felt had he managed to convince 20 Republican senators to vote for his healthcare program, and one gets a sense of how Erdogan must feel today.
The Turkish people gave Erdogan, whose party and government have deep Islamic roots, a huge green light, and in the process have given him a massive tail wind to continue his policies – policies that include a realignment of the country’s foreign policy, which includes a steady distancing from Israel.
There were those in Jerusalem on Monday who compared this referendum to the US midterm elections in November.
If the Democrats get clobbered in those elections, as many expect, Obama will be significantly weakened, and this weakness will spill over to foreign policy issues in general, and the Middle East in particular.
A domestically weakened president is also one whose impact on foreign policy is diminished. The opposite effect will be felt if the Democrats do well in those elections.
The same held true Sunday in Turkey. Had Erdogan lost the referendum, after having spent so much energy and political capital on it, it would have severely weakened him, and that would have affected his overall polices.
Granted, this was not a referendum on Erdogan’s foreign policy, but – because he was so personally involved in the reform project – it was to a large degree a referendum on him and his rule. And he emerged from the referendum strengthened, something that will give him a free hand to continue with his current policies.
The sense in Jerusalem was that Erdogan has no incentive to change the direction of his Israel policy and return the relationship to where it was before Operation Cast Lead and the Gaza flotilla incident.
Moreover, one of the results of the referendum was that Erdogan
succeeded in clipping the wings of the army – the institution inside
Turkey most interested in close strategic ties with Jerusalem. There is a
school of thought in Jerusalem that feels Israel is a victim of the tug
of war between Erdogan and the military. According to this logic,
Erdogan is keen on reducing its power, and – as a result – lashes out at
what is good and important for the army, including, but not
exclusively, the strategic relationship with Israel.
Sunday’s referendum has strengthened Erdogan’s hand, and he will feel no
pressure to change the direction of his foreign policies, one of which
is distancing Ankara from Jerusalem.