Turkey and Israel: Possible reconciliation?

Turkey and Israel: Possible reconciliation?

Recent developments increased the possibility of normalization in Turkish-Israeli relations. The Israeli cabinet has been discussing conditions put forward by Turkey since the killing of nine Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara ship last year and trying to reach a common position on if and how Israel would respond to these conditions. In fact, the signs for a possibility of normalization were there in the last months and there were expectations that the issue could come to the fore after the Turkish elections in June. Within this context, there was first the announcement of postponement of Mavi Marmara’s setting sail to Gaza in the first anniversary of the incident. Then came the announcement about the cancellation of Mavi Marmara’s participation in the new Gaza aid mission by the İHH. There were also signs that some in the Israeli cabinet were ready to push for normalization of relations with Turkey.

What explains the seeming readiness by both sides to resolve the crisis and go on to normalize relations? First, there seems to be the U.S. factor. The Obama administration is said to increase its efforts to bring the two sides to a point of resolving the crisis. Second, both countries may think that in the new conjuncture in the Middle East they have an interest in normalizing their relations. In the wake of the Arab Spring the uncertainty in the region has increased. Israel has been concerned about being isolated in the region as well as the implications of the Arab spring for the Palestinian issue. The plan of the Palestinians to seek recognition of their independence in the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in the fall is a big worry. Turkey has also appeared to be an important supporter of the process as it has been recently demonstrated in the “Palestinian Ambassadors’ Conference” in Istanbul. Turkey, on the other hand, is also concerned about the instability in the region. The fragility of Lebanon and Palestine necessitates Turkey to return to its previous position of talking to everybody, including Israel.

The Sword of Damocles for both sides is also the long-awaited U.N. report about its investigation into the Flotilla incident. It is reported that Israeli Attorney General has warned that the report may prompt lawsuits against the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, soldiers. For the Turkish side there is the possibility that the report would be tepid in criticizing Israeli raid. So both sides may prefer to settle the issue before the publishing of the report. It is to allow space for negotiations that the publication of the report has been delayed several times, and now due for publication at the end of August.

Therefore, there are rising expectations that the two countries will find a way to resolve the Mavi Marmara crisis and move on to normalize their relations. But these efforts are quite fragile. As the past history has shown, the process could easily be stalled. It is clear that there are divergent views in the Israeli cabinet about the issue of apology. There may be those who would like to prevent the process of reconciliation. There could be policies on the Turkish side also that would put reconciliation at jeopardy. A possible visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Gaza could be one of them, as it has already been used by those who oppose reconciliation in Israel to thwart the process.

In any case, even there is reconciliation on Mavi Marmara crisis; the two countries have a long way to go. The kind of relationship that they had in the mid-1990s is a thing of the past. It represented an exception-together with the very close relations in the late 1950s – in the history of relations between two states. But normalization, which also characterized Turkish-Israeli relations under the current government in Turkey till the Gaza War, could be a real possibility.