Is Turkey delaying the Israeli normalization process?

Is Turkey delaying the Israeli normalization process?

It has been nearly three months since Turkish and Israeli diplomats started negotiations for the terms of an agreement that would close the much-debated compensation issue over the killing of nine Turkish citizens on board of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara at the hands of Israeli commandos in 2010.

Apart from its judicial and financial dimensions, concluding these negotiations and paying compensation to the victims would have political consequences, which would speed up the normalization of bilateral relations with the exchange of ambassadors.

When Israel apologized to Turkey on March 22, thanks to U.S. President Barack Obama’s personal engagement, many believed the process would be completed in less than four months and both countries would re-increase the level of diplomatic representation to the level of ambassador before July. But this did not happen, and both parties are trying hard to keep the issue on a low profile due to its sensitivity and potential reflections in their domestic political affairs. 

There are also a number of indications pushing those who are closely following this process to think that the so-called normalization will not be in sight in the near future either. This is especially the case following the Gezi Park protests, with senior government officials indirectly or directly accusing Israel and the Israel lobby of orchestrating the massive weeks-long rallies.

From the many examples, this column will refer to two recent high-level statements to depict how the Turkish government links numerous internal developments to Israeli policies towards Turkey. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay recently blamed foreign powers and the Jewish diaspora for triggering the unrest in Turkey, saying: “There are some circles that are jealous of Turkey’s growth. They are all uniting, on one side the Jewish diaspora. You saw the foreign media’s attitude during the Gezi Park incidents.”

It’s not to our knowledge why Atalay preferred to use definition of “the Jewish diaspora” instead of “Israeli lobby or Jewish lobby,” but obviously he gave the strongest evidence of anti-Semitism being nourished among the ruling party elites. (His office issued a statement on Tuesday saying the deputy prime minister was misunderstood and that he did not mean that Jewish diaspora was behind the Gezi Park protests.)

Another most important statement came from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which expressed its views and disturbances regarding accusations targeting its chief Hakan Fidan through an interview with a Turkish newspaper over the weekend: “This was the first time that a state [MİT officials later confirmed to Habertürk that this state was Israel] reacted against the intelligence management of another state, officially declaring that it was against the appointment of Hakan Fidan as the head of the MİT,” the intelligence organization said. 

It said that in the wake of this statement from Israel, the MİT had become the target of consecutive unfair publications and attacks from inside Turkey. The leaking of secret talks with the PKK in Oslo, the Uludere incident in which 34 civilians were killed mistaken for terrorists, the downing of a Turkish jet by Syria, and terrorists attacks in Reyhanlı, Gaziantep and elsewhere were all listed by the MİT as prominent examples of this smear campaign against Fidan.

This represented perhaps the first time the MİT gave an interview to a newspaper, and again it was the first time that it cited a very deep disagreement with another country in the most public way. The interview is in fact a part of the ongoing internal power struggle in Turkey, but its inclusion of Israel in this equation was very remarkable.

Given this framework, it would be very surprising to see the Turkish government move forward to normalize relations with Israel in the foreseeable future.