Ties have changed since 1947 UN vote

60 years after UN partition decision, the ties have changed; Israel's relationship with Turkey can attest to that.

cover 1948  (photo credit: )
cover 1948
(photo credit: )
Sixty years ago, Turkey and India were among the countries that voted against the United Nations resolution to establish a Jewish State. Today they are two of Israel's closest allies. The vote on November 29, 1947 - which recommended the end of the British mandate of Palestine and partition of the land into two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish - was approved by the United Nations General Assembly by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions, creating the final push for the creation of the State of Israel. The countries that voted against the resolution included states with which Israel is still at odds - Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen - but also a group with which Israel has since developed ties - Cuba, Egypt, India, Turkey and Greece. The last four have embassies in Israel, and high-level diplomatic meetings between Israel and Pakistan took place in 2005. All 10 countries that abstained then - Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, Yugoslavia and Great Britain and Ireland - now maintain embassies in Israel. "A lot can change in 60 years," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. "Governments change, their assessments of their national interest change, and the geopolitical context in which they make those assessments changes." Turkey and India are good examples. In 1949, two years after the fateful UN vote, Turkey became the first country with a Muslim majority to formally recognize the State of Israel. In recent years, Israel has become a major supplier of arms to Turkey, and military, strategic and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries are growing on an annual basis. Over the past decade, trade between the countries has soared from $150 million in 1996 to $2.3 billion last year - not to mention the 400,000 Israeli tourists who flock to Turkey each year. The relationship with Turkey is significant because it is a Muslim country that Israel believes can serve as a bridge to other countries in the Middle East. Turkish President Abdullah Gul recently told President Shimon Peres that Turkey was always available to mediate between Israel and other countries, such as Syria. As a Muslim state, Turkey has good relations with its neighbors, Syria and Iran, and as a democratic and secular state it also enjoys good ties with Israel, Europe and the US. On his recent visit to Ankara, Peres said: "Turkey is the bridge between three continents, as well as three different religions." India, too, has become one of Israel's closest allies. The two countries are threatened by similar strands of radical Islamism: While Israel is concerned with Iran's nuclear potential and support of terrorism, New Delhi worries about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Islamic radicals. As a strong supporter of Palestinian independence, India did not recognize Israel until 1992. However, after the Kashmiri insurrection in 1989, the collapse of the USSR and the military escalation with Pakistan, the political framework changed, allowing for relations between the two countries to bloom. Since then, the economic, political and strategic relationship between the two has steadily grown. Israel is now India's second-largest arms provider, after Russia. In 2007, Israel Aerospace Industries signed a $2.5 billion deal with India to develop an anti-aircraft system and missiles for the country, the biggest defense contract in the history of Israel. And, like Turkey, India has become a favorite tourist destination for Israelis, who flock there by the thousands each year. But while bilateral relations with India and Turkey are strong, their multilateral interests often diverge from those of Israel. "There seems to be an apparent contradiction between their voting patterns and the state of their bilateral ties," said Harris. "There is much room for improvement in their voting record at the UN." Since the 1970s, both the Turkish people and government have, to some degree, sympathized with the Palestinian cause, though relations with the PLO were marked by mistrust and suspicion. Turkish sympathy became particularly evident after the beginning of the second intifada in late 2000, when demonstrators throughout Turkey denounced Israel's incursion into areas of the West Bank and Gaza. But Turkey also claims to be a moderating voice. At the 2000 OIC summit in Qatar, Turkey worked to tone down a resolution condemning Israel. Additionally, Turkey was the only predominantly Muslim nation to vote in favor of removing language critical of Israel from a declaration presented at the UN's World Conference against Racism in Durban. Such support, however, has not been absolute, and generally speaking, Turkey remains critical of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. The United States, which has been Israel's closest ally for many decades, supported Resolution 181; however, president Harry Truman was under tremendous pressure to reject it - not only from the Arab world, but from his own secretaries of state and defense, who were fiercely opposed to supporting the resolution. But Truman persisted, and in the 60 years since, American support for Israel has remained consistent. Venezuela, on the other hand, which supported the creation of Israel, has since parted ways. Relations between the countries have historically been strong, but they soured in 2006, following comments by President Hugo Chávez about the 2006 Second Lebanon War and due in part to the foreign policy of Chávez and Iran. Some say emigration has resulted in a drop of up to one-fifth in Venezuela's Jewish population, amid concerns of rising allegations of anti-Semitism. Asked how things currently stand between the two countries, an official from the Venezuelan Embassy in Israel said, "Depends on whom you ask" - but, he added, "we've had better times."