Turkish and Israeli societies have evolved down opposite paths
The start of my journalistic career coincides with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. At that time, Turkish society in my view had not yet matured in terms of plural democracy. I thought that the people of Israel, the other democratic country in the Middle East, were more pluralistic and liberal. Despite Turkey’s wish to join the European Union, Israel endorsed more European values when compared with Turkey.
I could not have imagined at that time that one of the consequences of the fall of iron curtain would be the change in the Israeli liberal landscape. “When you call a GSM service, the second language is not English; it says dial 2 for Russian,” a Turkish official who once lived in Israel told me. Jewish immigrants from former Soviet lands now outweigh the European social democrats, which are the founding fathers of Israel, he added.
In the last two decades Turkish society has evolved to a more pluralistic one. Not only is the official state thesis being challenged more; the tendency to look to the world with security lenses is becoming weaker. There is still of course lots of room for improvement.
Israel, on the other hand, is sliding more toward the far right. The fact that the birth rate among ultra–orthodox is much higher than “secular-moderate” Israelis tells us that this slide toward the far right is not only temporary.
It is often presumed that it is easier to make pace with hawks as skeptics can give their blessing more comfortably to an agreement reached by hawkish leaders. Currently, there is no such indication that this presumption will be valid for the upcoming Israeli government that will be formed following Tuesday’s elections.
Actually, it would not be a surprise if the new government decides to apologize to Turkey for the notorious Mavi Marmara incident, in which Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli soldiers. Even some kind of a formula might be found to fulfill Turkey’s condition to lift the embargo to Gaza. That will serve to improve the image of Israel and it is an easier step to undertake, rather than sit with Palestinians for a genuine peace.
So for as long as Israel maintains its stance toward the Arab Spring, seeing in it a cover for keeping the status quo rather than an opportunity for a new peace initiative, it will be very hard for Turkey and Israel to put relations back on track. The conviction that the turmoil in the region eases the pressure on Israel to work for peace and that each passing day works in favor of new settlements is shortsighted.
Until now, Israel faced a totally incompetent Arab world, unable to show a unified front. This might change in the medium term.
When and once diplomatic channels are opened between Turkey and Israel, Turkey will keep reminding Israel of this fact.
In addition to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s controversial nuclear program will remain the “potentially explosive” issue that will hang over bilateral relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv. Turkey will top the list of those opposing a military strike on Iran, and the strain in Turkey’s relations with Iran due to the disagreement over the war in Syria will have no affect on that position.
While no one wants to have strong prejudgments, Turkish officials that I have talked with remain rather more pessimistic than optimistic for the future Turkish–Israeli relations.