Impasse continues in ties with Israel

Impasse continues in ties with Israel

Israel has been issuing feelers again to see if it can mend ties with Turkey, broken since May 2010 after the deadly raid by Israeli commandoes on the Mavi Marmara aid ship that left nine Turks dead.

Even Israel’s irascible right-wing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman appears to have softened his to-date “never give in to Turkey” stance. He was quoted by Reuters recently as saying that he was open to an “expression of regret on the killing of innocents,” similar to a statement from Washington concerning the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by mistake last November.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for his part, told the Jerusalem Post recently that Turkey and Israel shared common interests in Syria and other areas, adding, “I think it is in our common interest to find a way to be able to stop, to arrest, the slide in our relationship and resume a fruitful dialogue.”

There is, however, little left that can be “arrested” in ties at this stage, since they remain at rock bottom. Diplomatic relations are at the lowest level possible. As for the two militaries, once the closest of friends, they are hardly talking anymore.

Trade continues, of course, and even shows signs of increasing, as Turks and Israeli’s keen on ties between the two countries like to point to. But even the economic self-interest that fuels this trade has been unable to alter the political deadlock.

Meanwhile the number of Israeli tourists to Turkey has dropped to a trickle and most Turkish operators have long since filled the gap with tourists from other countries, including Muslim ones where Turkey’s prestige is running high at the moment, not the least because of its standoff with Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has become a nemesis for most Israelis, however, made short shrift of Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s overtures. In the process, he revealed that these overtures included an attempt by an unnamed wealthy Israeli businessman sent to Ankara to try and find a way to mend ties.

“Our response to those who have called on us to talk about Israel has been clear. As long as Israel fails to meet any of these conditions, normalization is not possible,” he told reporters during a visit to Ukraine capital last week.

He was referring to the three conditions Turkey has set for Israel in order for ties to improve. Namely, that it should apologize unequivocally for the killings of the Turks on the Mavi Marmara, that it should pay compensation for this act, and that it should lift the blockade of Gaza.

“If there is a mediator who can guarantee and ensure all three of these, we will say ‘yes.’ Otherwise, mediators should not waste their time,” Erdogan said.

Given the resistance to meeting Turkey’s conditions among hardliners in Israel, Erdogan’s remarks clearly indicate that there is little, if any, opening for diplomats to work on to overcome the impasse. Both governments have also committed themselves so strongly to their political positions that there is little wiggle room left for anything new.

The simple fact is that there is a pro-Islamic government in power in Turkey, where sympathy for Palestinians has always been high. There is therefore little political advantage for Prime Minister Erdogan to reach out to Israel, which is a country he has little love for anyway, if the Turkish conditions are not met.

On the other side of the fence, there is a hard-line right-wing government in power in Israel which has little interest in reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which clearly has little love for Erdogan and his pro-Hamas government.
Put another way, the repulsion on both sides for the other is ensuring the impasse remains, unless some “dues ex machine” intervenes to alter the situation. If it does not, one should not expect any movement in Turkish-Israel ties in the foreseeable future. Washington has been unable to alter the situation, regardless of the common interests between Turkey and Israel that Netanyahu refers to. Hence, the impasse is set to continue for the foreseeable future.