End of the crisis period in Turkish–Israeli relations?
“It is possible to say that the crisis period between Turkey and Israel has ended, in parallel to developments in the Middle East.”
This is the view of Oğuz Çelikkol, Turkey’s former envoy to Tel Aviv, whose book “From One Minute to the Mavi Marmara” was published just one week ahead of the anniversary of Israel’s 2010 attack on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship.
Çelikkol was Turkey’s newly appointed envoy when the attack, which resulted in the death of 10 Turks, took place. At the time, he was just recovering from another crisis: The notorious low seat crisis, in which a “plot” - in Çelikkol’s words - was set up against him by the then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Ayalon had treated Çelikkol politely, but later told a journalist that he had intentionally made Çelikkol sit in a sofa lower than his chair.
A great majority of Israelis do not approve of either the Mavi Marmara or the low seat crises, Çelikkol told me in the interview published in the Daily News on May 26. In addition, economic relations have not been affected by the harsh winds blowing at the political level.
This is as much as you get if you want to find a positive element in Turkish–Israeli ties.
Otherwise, Çelikkol gives us a rather pessimist projection as to the future of Turkish–Israeli relations.
An Israeli analyst might not be surprised at this conclusion. “This is only natural. The Justice and Development Party [AKP] is there to stay and as long as the AKP continues its prevalent position in Turkish politics, relations with Israel won’t improve,” they might think.
However, former diplomat Çelikkol puts the blame on Israel and on the changes in the fabric of Israeli society. The rather left-wing, secular immigrants from Europe are now being outnumbered by the rather religious right-wing immigrants now coming from the Middle East and Russia, with consequences for both domestic and foreign policy. One of the most important consequences is the strengthening of religious and extreme nationalist parties in the domestic scene.
The current picture in Israel today is one where “the powers favoring peace that could gather thousands in the streets in the past have lowered their voice. The front that favors peace with Palestinian Arabs is gradually downsizing; the center, the right and the left-of-center are inclined to take harder stance, fearing that the religious and Jewish nationalist parties that are xenophobic and anti–Muslim will get stronger.”
Çelikkol points to the concerns that Israel is distancing itself from a two state solution and is only continuing talks to gain time.
If Israel is not changing its stance, this will also remain the main barrier to improving relations with Turkey, he says.
An important point that is underlined by Çelikkol needs to reach those who are stuck with the conviction that the AKP and its religious constituency is the only reason why relations with Israel won’t improve. Çelikkol argues that support in Turkey for the Palestinian issue does not only stem from religious affinity, and that even leftist groups in Turkey (who are usually the least religious) have also been supportive of the Palestinians.
In summary, even if Turkish–Israeli relations normalize, it will be difficult to expect an improvement at the political level so long as Israel continues its intransigence on the Palestinian issue. Turkey cannot isolate itself from the problem and say “business as usual” with Israel, because the region will continue to be a source of instability unless there is a solution to the Palestinian problem. This conviction will be the prevailing one among all political parties in Turkey.