Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Turkey and Israel: Bridging the Gaps and Moving Forward?

During the last few days, both Turkish and Israeli newspapers have been filled with headlines hinting that the two countries are serious about reconciling their differences. Something I obviously find refreshing and spelled out the need for in an article in Haaretz. The first major test standing between the two once friendly states is reaching an agreement over the wording of a soon to released United Nations Report on last year’s Gaza Flotilla incident. We will need to wait and see how both countries will climb down from the tree and find a compromise which allows Israel to “apologize” without “outright apologizing,” not to mention finding a meeting point over Turkey’s demand that Israel can compensate the victims’ families of the flotilla incident. Of course, Israel’s negotiating chip in all of this is the fact that there are rumors that Turkey also runs the risk of being chastised in the report, something that Turkey would not at all be pleased with since it was Turkey that demanded that the UN investigate the incident (see Hurriyet Daily News article which does a good job at explaining this issue)

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the ball is mainly in Israel’s court with Turkey successfully foiling any Turkish participation in the current Aid to Gaza Flotilla, which has ran into serious problems in Greece. Furthermore, it seems that Israel has also turned to Turkey to help reignite Israeli-Hamas negotiations over the release of the Israeli held captive Gilad Shalit in exchange of Palestinian prisoners. Last autumn, I argued in an article in Today’s Zaman that if anyone could bring the release of Shalit, it was Erdogan. I still believe that he is the ideal person to work for the release of Shalit, and if he succeeded he would receive the prestige of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Clearly, Turkey is in the midst of renegotiating their presence in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring revolutions and their major fallout with Syria, whose leader Bashar al-Assad continues to lead a bloody campaign against his people’s uprising, with over 1500 protestors killed. However, it is important to equally state that Israel needs now more than ever to renegotiate their presence in the Middle East. Their warming up to Turkey can greatly be explained as a tactic to somehow defer (or minimize the damage of) a unilateral declaration (and recognition) of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September, a topic I will focus on in the next few weeks. We should hope that Turkey will be able to convince Israel once and for all need to take Palestinian claims seriously and negotiate with them as an equal partner. Further, Israel would be wise to listen to Turkish criticism since Turkey is not far off from what most of the world believes: Israel needs to recognize an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. In other words, the occupation of Palestinian lands needs to come to an end and Jerusalem should become the united capital of both Israel and Palestine.

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