Politicians try to bridge new ME divide

Israeli, Turkish politician meet to help mend ties between countries.

Two young politicians representing Israel and Turkey have taken it upon themselves to try to stitch up the divide that has plagued the two nations since the fateful May 31 raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turks dead.
Jerusalem City Councilman Hilik Bar, who chairs the Labor Party in Jerusalem and oversees foreign relations and tourism for the municipality, believes an open discourse between the younger generations on both sides could bypass the political bickering while exposing the youth to the moderate positions in the two nations.
At a meeting last week between Bar and Tuna Beklevic, head of the young but rapidly growing Strong Turkey Party, the politicians pushed for a joint conference that would unite young Turkish and Israeli leaders.
Since the raid on the flotilla on May 31, the once-strong diplomatic cooperation has ground to a halt, while groups on both sides have called for boycotts. In late June, Turkey closed its airspace to some Israeli aircraft, threatening the historically resilient military ties.
Beklevic, who had never been to Israel, spent a full day in Bar’s company as he sought to transcend the heated political relations between the two nations.
Bar said his guest had come “to witness that Israelis are not the devil, as some Turkish politicians draw us. [Beklevic] believed, like me, that the next generation of Israelis and Turks can have a fateful role in the future of the two countries.”
The 38-year old Bar – the youngest Jerusalem Labor Party chairman ever – said he welcomed the opportunity to work with a counterpart like Beklevic, 33, describing him as “a meteor in the sky in Turkey.”
“He’s not just a young leader, he’s a very well-known and well-connected politician,” said Bar. “He specifically can help us in this task of getting these two sides closer.”
Bar added, “It gave me a lot of hope to hear that a lot of people in Turkey hate this crisis and don’t want this crisis to continue. To hear it from a Turkish politician was very important for me.”
Beklevic was unavailable for comment because he was participating in a Turkish delegation to Baghdad.
But Bar said their meeting had culminated in plans to bring together young leaders from the two nations – politicians, political advisers, and students – either at a conference in some neutral country or at two consecutive conferences in the respective countries.
The politicians expect the discourse to expose Israelis to the secular youth of Turkey who, according to Beklevic, do not support the religious groups in Turkey that were behind the flotilla. These young people will then be in a position to appeal to their respective political leaderships and may well become the political leaders of the future.
“He told me that most of the Turks don’t really see a problem with Israel,” Bar said.
“I told him Turkey has two options,” he continued. “Either to become the next Iran or to maintain its part in the Western world.”
At the first meeting, Bar hopes to have at least 10 representatives from each side, with Israelis spanning the political spectrum.
The plan, which awaits final approval from Beklevic, is modeled off of previous efforts by Bar to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in discourse – generally at conferences outside of Israel.
The introduction was hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, a center for interdisciplinary study.
Dr. Anat Lapidot-Firilla, the academic director for Van Leer’s Mediterranean studies program, said the institute was still considering sponsoring the conferences. But she emphasized that it was fully supportive of the young representatives’ goals.
“Civil society in the two countries, Israel and Turkey, should not leave relationships to politicians,” she said. “We have a lot to do, and we can do it.”