Notes from Herzliya and Jerusalem

Notes from Herzliya and Jerusalem

The sixth annual conference for diplomatic dialogue between Israel and Turkey, held by the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT Center) and the Israeli Institute for Regional Policies (MITVIM), took place last week in Israel. As part of conference schedule, we conducted meetings with representatives from the Foreign Ministry and Knesset while discussing current issues with both Israeli and Palestinian opinion leaders.

Our first stop was Herzliya. The audience was greatly interested in what was occurring inside Turkey, especially wondering whether Turkey would go to another election after Nov. 1 if no majority government emerges.

Another hot topic was the military presence of Russia in Syria. The fact that Russia acts as an airshield along the Syrian border has caused resentment among Israelis – as it does for Turkish authorities – in terms of preserving the security of the Golan Heights and preventing the transfer of arms to Hezbollah. However, for the time being, Israeli analysts seem to favor a Syria under Russian influence over a Syria under Iranian hegemony.

Considering the political and military alliance between Russia and Iran, the situation on the ground, so far, flies in the face of Israel’s projections. However, it is too early to predict how this cooperation may turn in the future and perhaps even lead to a divergence between Iran and Russia over keeping President Bashar al-Assad.

Everyone agreed that Russia was there to stay and that the sooner the countries in the region adjust their policies to this new reality, the better.

The next day, in Jerusalem, we met Walid Salim, the director of the Palestinian Democracy and Community Development, and discussed recent terror attacks. 

Our questions were simple. Why now? Was there a way to stop this violence?

The attackers were generally born between 1995 and 2000 and had witnessed all three Gaza wars, he said.

Their only perception of Israelis was based on their contacts with settlers and security guards at gates, poking them with their rifles.

As such, we are faced with an uprising by young masses with no ideological bonds to either Fatah or Hamas – and no hope for the future, either. 

According to Salim, the terror attacks were unorganized individual acts of revenge. If they hadn’t been, they could have contacted the masterminds to stop the violence. Fatah has fulfilled its pledges so far to prevent all kinds of military attacks against Israel, but it no longer feels responsible about holding back young crowds throwing stones at Israelis, he said.

But Salim couldn’t provide a satisfactory answer on whether a selective approach might prove counterproductive and encourage further violence, referring instead to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the United Nations in which he said the resistance against Israel would continue through peaceful and legal means in a discussion of international monitoring of al-Aqsa and U.N. sanctions on settlements. 

While Salim focused on the deadlock in the peace process as the root cause of the latest wave of terrorism, a member of the Zionist Union, the main opposition party, argued that the Zionist-religious politicians’ provocative actions at the Temple Mount had played a role in escalating the violence. She was worried that the idea of building a wall inside east Jerusalem could exacerbate fears among Muslims that Israelis are intent on dividing Jerusalem, something that could trigger further upheaval.

Our last stop was the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Naturally, the normalization of bilateral relations with Turkey is very much desired, with cooperation against jihadist terror topping the agenda, followed by increasing prospects for energy cooperation.

However, everyone is well aware that without necessary steps to normalize bilateral ties, entrepreneurs won’t be willing to undertake risks for investment. Having given up hopes of building peace pipelines, Israel has focused on developing condensed gas technology (CNG) instead. 

Israeli officials evaluate the Kremlin’s latest move in Syria as part of increasing Russian engagement in the Middle East. They certainly do not want to see the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, but they don’t want Syria to remain Iran’s proxy, either. As Russia moves further to the south, clearing out the rebels, maintaining security along the borders will become more challenging.  

Meanwhile, Israeli officials reiterate that they regard Hamas as a terrorist organization, yet they are positive about paving the way for investments without letting Hamas derive any political profit.

Lastly, despite issues prone to tension such as the incidents at al-Aqsa, the fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been low-key in his criticisms against Israel is perceived as a positive sign with regard to bilateral relations, something that has been aided by Feridun Sinirlioğlu’s appointment as foreign minister.

Packing our hopes that steps for normalization might follow in the aftermath of Turkey’s Nov. 1 elections, we headed for the airport.