How close are Turkey and Israel to a deal?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who went to Washington last week to attend a nuclear summit, received perhaps his warmest welcome from pro-Israel lobby groups as he enjoyed the benefits of the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Israel.
During a closed meeting with Jewish representatives, including Robert Singer, vice president of the World Jewish Congress and the head of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, and Malcom Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Erdoğan reportedly called on Jewish leaders in the U.S. to cooperate against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
Indeed, the groundwork of these friendly discussions were laid last month as senior representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, were hosted at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, where they met Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and other senior officials. The meeting marked the first time in seven years since the infamous “one minute” episode at Davos caused a rift between the leaders of the two countries.
Erdoğan delivered warm messages to Israel during his speech at the Brookings Institute, expressing hope that the tragic suicide bomb attack that took place on March 19 in Istanbul, killing three Israelis and an Iranian, would bring the two once-close allies together again.
In the aftermath of the bomb attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated his expectations that a third round of reconciliation talks with Turkey in the upcoming weeks would eventually yield a positive outcome.
The relationship between the two countries were severely strained following a deadly assault in 2010 on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara aid flotilla, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Since then, Turkey has repeatedly raised three conditions for normalization: an apology for the incident, compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims and the lifting of the Gaza blockade.
So far, an apology has come from Netanyahu, thanks to U.S. President Barack Obama’s mediation.
Though normalization has not yet materialized, both sides are positive about reaching an agreement soon. In fact, Erdoğan’s remarks during his Brookings speech in fact provided hints about the unresolved issues in the negotiation process.
While progress has been made on the details of the compensation, Gaza remains one of the problematic topics obstructing an agreement.
During his speech in Washington, Erdoğan addressed the poor conditions of Palestinians and reiterated Turkey’s imperative to “remove the embargo” once more. He also expressed the government’s willingness to take part in any initiative that would contribute to the welfare of the Palestinians, such as rebuilding Gaza and providing schools, hospitals, infrastructure, goods and financial support.
In fact, just two weeks ago, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) announced new plans to build 320 housing units in the Gaza Strip. The project is one of just 400 TİKA-funded projects being carried out in Palestine.
In addition to Turkey’s previously stated three conditions for normalization, the two sides have reportedly been discussing the construction of a seaport in Gaza, which the Israeli side previously denied. Israel, on the other hand, has been demanding Ankara shut Hamas’ offices in Turkey, an issue on which the Turkish officials have been dragging their feet.
It is highly unlikely that Israel will accept the construction of a seaport in Gaza, since it would mean granting Hamas political gains and jeopardizing Egypt’s friendship. It is therefore important to follow recent rapprochement efforts between Hamas and Egypt, as well as between Egypt and Turkey, and then see whether or not they will culminate in regional reconciliation among neighbors.
Meanwhile, Israel’s recent expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone from six to nine nautical miles could be interpreted as a goodwill gesture in terms of easing the blockade.
However, signals of Turkey’s possible coming thaw with Russia and the Israeli High Court’s decision temporarily suspending energy deals may change political calculations on both sides and affect their desire to reach a settlement.
Nevertheless, with uncertainty and chaos prevalent in the Middle East, the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations would, without a doubt, foster better cooperation between the two countries in various fields and thus help construct mutual security.