A new era in the Middle East after Israeli apology?
Nearly three years after the tragic Mavi Marmara incident that claimed the lives of nine Turkish citizens at the hands of Israeli commandos, the Israeli government accepted formally apologizing to Turkey, paying compensation to the families of the victims and removing the blockade imposed on Palestine through a joint effort, in cooperation with Turkey, to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a long speech yesterday in Parliament, outlining his phone conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama on March 22. One of the most important things he said was that almost all his interlocutors with whom he exchanged thoughts following the Israeli apology confessed that it was Turkey’s success and a sign of the beginning of a new era in the Middle East.
For Erdoğan, the Israeli apology also changed the equation with regard to the Middle East peace process as the deal with Israel necessitates the Jewish state to seek the cooperation of Turkey in the course of the future peace process. No doubt, Turkey will ask for a more powerful seat at the table if the two parties and the quartet would agree to begin a new peace process along with Egypt and other regional heavyweights. As stated by Erdoğan, the deal reached between Turkey and Israel gives sufficient legal background to this end.
With a planned, although unconfirmed, visit to Gaza and the West Bank by Erdoğan in April, Turkey’s involvement in the reconstruction of Palestine will be more apparent and effective. All of these developments will surely increase Turkey’s visibility and weight in the region, creating necessary conditions for the government to revisit its regional targets.
For Israel, reconciling with Turkey under the United States mediation seems to be more important and vital. Firstly, as the mediation of Obama put Washington as the guarantor of Ankara-Tel Aviv relations, any party deciding to break them once again will have to explain its position to Washington, facing the risk of deterioration of its ties with the Obama administration.
Secondly, Israel, under the threat of growing fundamentalism in Syria with the penetration of some extreme Islamist fighters to the region, could start to feel a lot more secure as it could cooperate with Turkey against the use of chemical weapons and against the risk of spillover of this bloodshed to the region. As Netanyahu said, this could be the primary reason behind the apology.
However, as said by Turkish diplomats here, the normalization process between Turkey and Israel will still take time as the parties have yet to rebuild the broken confidence. We will see some diplomatic trips between the two capitals or a start of political consultations but this will hardly become the reviewed strategic partnership the two countries enjoyed in the past. It’s true that we are on the edge of a new era in the Middle East, but it’s hard to estimate whether it will bring about a safer or a more dangerous climate to the region.