Turkey and Israel: After the apology

Turkey and Israel: After the apology

It came certainly as a surprise when news broke out that the Israeli government, after three years, offered an official apology to Turkey for the killings on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010. It was perhaps the most tangible fruit of Barack Obama’s recent trip to Israel, for it was none other than the American president who convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call his Turkish counterpart. Yet still, for the latter, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, this was a diplomatic victory as well, for he, after all, achieved all he wanted from Israel: apology, compensation and the easing of the blockade on Gaza.

No wonder in Turkey not just the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) usual fans but also objective foreign policy analysts note that this whole tension with Israel ended with a great success for Ankara. Others, most notably the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and secondary opposing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are busy imagining conspiracy theories that are not really worth being taking seriously (They argue or imply that the Israeli apology came as a bonus for the AKP government’s “surrender to PKK terrorism,” which shows that they are really total ignoramuses about the world in which we live in).

Meanwhile, in Israel, it seems that between the two different views of the AKP government, the more nuanced view has prevailed. The other view, held by the far-right, was that the AKP was a cadre of anti-Semitic, Israel-hating Islamists, which had put Turkey on the axis of evil from within a Zionist perspective. The other view, which I also supported in these pages, was that although the AKP is ardently pro-Palestinian, it is also pragmatic and not opposed to the existence of Israel as hardcore Islamists often are. Notably Erdoğan, after his controversial condemnation of “Zionism,” underlined this point view in a recent interview given to Danish media by noting he “recognized Israel’s existence within 1967 borders based on a two-state solution.”

But what will the apology bring? First, full diplomatic relations will probably be soon restored, with the two capitals welcoming each other’s ambassadors. However, it would be too optimistic to assume that Turkey and Israel will enter into a strategic alliance akin to the one in the late 90’s, when there was a military regime in Turkey and a peace process in the Holy Land.

Yet still, Israel can benefit from Turkey’s friendship, as Ankara’s prestige on Hamas can help moderating the Islamist resistance movement in Palestine. This was implied yesterday by none other than Yalçın Akdoğan, a top advisor to Erdoğan, in a piece in daily Star. “The most important point in the Israeli apology was that the Israeli government noted its openness to cooperate with Turkey in order to improve the situation in Gaza,” Akdoğan wrote, adding, “In this new setting, Turkey has become an important actor in the solution of the Palestinian question… Turkey’s presence can also help Hamas to be more active in the process.”

A Hamas that is “more active in the process,” rather than more active in “armed resistance,” will certainly help Israel, the Palestinians themselves, and all other parties that hope for peace in the region, including the United States. That is why the apology, besides restoring respect between Turkey and Israel, can also open the way for a better Middle East.