Thanks Erdogan for Israel apology billboards 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
From tales of Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan revealing the names of 10
Mossad assets to Iranian authorities, to El Al being locked out of the Turkish
market, it is hard to find a silver lining amid the darkening clouds of
Of course there are only losers in this kind
of game. Both prime ministers Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Binyamin Netanyahu are
finding it increasingly difficult to actualize their country’s foreign policy
goals without regional partnership.
For President Barack Obama it may
register as his biggest diplomatic failure to date; it is one thing to struggle
with coaxing enemies to the negotiation table, but an inability to reconcile
longtime strategic partners is thoroughly disquieting. And the stalemate
continues to negatively impact the Israeli and Turkish publics.
reason, Track II policymakers from the Global Political Trends Center in
Istanbul and Mitvim-The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
congregated last week to brainstorm fresh methods that would reinvigorate the
It was a unique opportunity for dialogue during a
time when diplomatic ties are downgraded and negative attitudes
What came out of the (at times heated) discussions was the
need, in lieu of the changes within Turkish civil society, for a new narrative,
which can substitute for the military partnership that defined much of the past
Some of these narratives already exist.
outburst at Davos and the Mavi Marmara incident aside, bilateral trade between
the two countries has quadrupled since 1999 and now stands at over $4 billion
annually. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war when Assad closed his
borders, Israel – in an act of extreme flexibility – has aided Turkey in the
transportation of goods to and from Jordan.
Both countries have the
ability to assist the other in conflict resolution, whether it be Palestine or
Israel’s offshore gas equation will (in all likelihood)
involve a Turkish solution with critical regional implications.
not to mention the mutual strategic interests that Israel and Turkey continue to
share vis a vis Syria and the Iranian nuclear program.
But no matter what
new narratives may be developed in the future, the current impasse must first be
settled, and Mitvim and GPoT participants were able to shed enormous light on
the obstacles currently facing negotiators.
Israelis expressed a feeling
of betrayal after Netanyahu’s apology in March was coldly received, and
reiterated the primacy of legal innocence regardless of whether the government
agrees to an ex gratia payment to the Mavi Marmara victims. Most importantly,
many of the Israelis present insisted that Turkey drop all charges against any
IDF officers of soldiers believed to be, or who actually were involved in the
The Turks present made it abundantly clear that the criminal
and civil cases related to the Mavi Marmara – which have largely been hijacked
by the IHH – could no longer be dropped without the signing of an international
treaty voted upon by parliament; further negotiations would be necessary in
order to reach a mutually satisfactory and honorable conclusion. In addition
they reiterated how a show of good will in Gaza would be positively received by
the Turkish media.
Some in the room (and no doubt a healthy dose of my
readers) remained skeptical. They pinned everything on Erdogan or Netanyahu. Yet
those doubts were countered on both sides by claims that Erdogan has come to
regret the exuberance he exhibited while divorcing from Israel, and that
Netanyahu’s unwillingness to apologize was due the influence of Avigdor
Each leader was described as a pragmatist, an intriguing term
considering the abundance of negative publicity their policies and statements
Though it remained unclear whether the skeptics were
sufficiently answered, everyone agreed that a third party was the crucial link
to ensuring normalization.
Names of potential negotiators were bandied
about, including retired heads of state Carl Bildt and Bill Clinton, but I
believe the only person who would garner the respect and attention of Erdogan
and Netanyahu is President Obama himself.
Obama has fallen short on so
many occasions it is impossible to propose his name without reservations. And
yet there is a certain measure of hard and soft power generated by the White
House that makes even a half-hearted effort by a lame duck impossible to ignore
(see current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians).
chose to personally tackle Israeli-Turkish negotiations, to commit fully and not
be satisfied until the job is done, then we could see the normalization of ties
within the next six months.
Until that day arrives, institutions like
Mitvim and GPoT will continue to promote alternative channels of communication
with open eyes in the quest for a new Israeli-Turkish narrative. For two Middle
Eastern democracies with a history of extreme peaks and valleys, it is
impossible to speak in absolutes, but considering the high level of dialogue
when representatives of both countries meet it is hard to believe that relations
will stay down for long.The author is the Israel-Turkey project
coordinator for Mitvim –The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and
holds an MA in Political Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His
work has been published in a number of newspapers and journals, including
Hürriyet Daily News. He holds a BA in European and Middle Eastern History from
Ohio State University.