blue mosque istanbul 311.
(photo credit: Elana Kirsh)
A year has passed since Israel’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara. The raid, which
left eight Turkish activists and one Turkish- American activist dead and over 30
wounded, only exacerbated the already strained Turkey- Israel relationship, and
the bilateral relations have since been waiting to be salvaged.
culprit for the deterioration has been the Palestinian question, and the
relations have followed the ups and downs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, peace processes have brought the two countries closer. After the Oslo
Accords, for example, diplomatic relations were upgraded to ambassadorial level.
Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 likewise enabled the
rapprochement between the two countries, and to this end Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan paid an official visit to Israel to show Turkey’s appreciation of
its step toward peace. Most recently, Israeli-Syrian indirect talks with
Turkey’s sponsorship made the two countries partners for peace, and
state-to-state-level contact reached high levels.
The Mavi Marmara
incident added a second dimension to the bilateral relations: Israel’s position
on the deadly attack. From day one after the incident, Turkey’s conditions for
normalization have been pretty clear, and at the center of them were, and still
are, an official apology and compensation to the families of the victims.
Meanwhile, Israel has avoided any apologetic act, which would amount to
acceptance of culpability. This unfortunately brings the relations to a
Except for Israel’s easing of the Gaza siege by
allowing more products in than it did before the flotilla, and reluctant
agreement to collaborate with the Palmer commission [the UN Commission of
inquiry appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and chaired by former New
Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer] – which are too little, too late – there
has been no improvement so far that would bring a new momentum to the relations.
Turkey’s help during the Carmel fire last year and the ensuing meetings between
Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and Israel’s
representative to the UN probe of the flotilla affair, Yosef Ciechanover, could
not produce any positive results, either.
WE ARE currently at a point
where the Track I diplomacy is in a stalemate, and far from addressing the
Turkish-Israeli relations in general and the tragedy of the Mavi Marmara
incident in particular. Therefore, it must be addressed in a new way via Track
II diplomacy, because it seems that normalization of state-level relations will
not predate normalization of relations between the two peoples. Put the
international legal aspect aside, and the human tragedy experienced aboard the
can be recognized by the people of Israel and Turkey. This will
eventually introduce the missing piece in the bilateral relations: the civilian
This aspect has traditionally been neglected, and military
relations have shaped the interaction between the two countries. Despite a
historical affinity between Israelis and Turks, a strong interaction between
people, NGOs, and think-tanks was never really established. The current deadlock
in relations, therefore, presents an opportunity for the pro-peace camp in
Israeli and Turkish civil society to work together to push the policy makers
toward more compromising policies.
That said, it should be underlined
that there is little on which Turkey could compromise regarding the Mavi
; it is mostly Israel who should take bolder steps and not make the same
mistake with the second flotilla. The outcome is critical not only for
Turkish-Israeli relations, but also for the new Middle East that is being built
by the Arab Spring. In a region where Israel’s isolation is increasing, new
Turkish-Israeli relations could only bolster the latter’s
Considering Israel’s cold peace with Egypt and Jordan, which
has never created a meaningful dialogue between Israelis, and Egyptians and
Jordanians, a reverse, bottom-to-top approach should be employed in relations
The prospects for bilateral ties have been gloomy, and
rightly so. But increasing people-to-people contact and an advancement of the
Israeli-Palestinian track would prepare the grounds for new Turkish-Israeli
relations in the new Middle East.The writer is a fellow at Foundation
for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara.