Turkey-Israel ready for normalization?

Turkey-Israel ready for normalization?

The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that the long-anticipated compensation agreement between Turkey and Israel was awaiting the return of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from a trip to Japan, adding that it could be signed within days. Turkish officials also express similar expectations, underlining that a deal has already been reached and the signatures are awaiting the final consent of the Israeli prime minister.

The general expectation is that while, on the one hand, the compensation deal will close the four-year-long Mavi Marmara case, on the other hand it will mark a new era in bilateral relations, frequently described as “normalization.”

As stated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in an interview with the PBS two weeks ago, the finalization of the agreement will be followed by exchanging ambassadors, so they can start working for the normalization of relations. However, contrary to common expectations, the normalization process will surely take a longer time than thought, because of various reasons deriving from internal political problems in both countries as well as regional and international conditions.

In Turkey - and to some extent in Israel - domestic politics are tense nowadays given the upcoming presidential elections in both countries. In Turkey’s case, Erdoğan is apparently trying to change his tarnished image in the world through a number of steps that could be regarded as positive by the international community. Offering condolences to the descendants of the 1915 incidents of mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Empire was one of these gestures. A deal with Israel and reappointing an ambassador to Tel Aviv would surely be regarded in the same way, although Erdoğan needs to do more in the field of democracy and freedoms if he wants to break the negative impressions on him.

In Israel’s case, according to press reports, Netanyahu is in an effort to postpone the presidential elections slated for June, in a bid to change the election procedures. He will surely have a tough time in the internal Israeli scene against his opponents as the presidential elections approach.

From the foreign policy perspective, it’s very obvious that over the last four years of suspension of relations the Middle East has changed drastically, so it will take time for the two countries to comprehend their positions in order to launch sound cooperation.

Syria, as the common neighbor of the two countries, stands as the biggest issue in front of Turkey and Israel. Enduring instability in Syria is seen as a major threat for both countries, not only because it risks fragmentation but also because of growing foreign extremist groups in the region. In the last four years, Egypt also witnessed some very dramatic developments that ended in a coup by the Egyptian army that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood rule.

After losing its main supporter, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a cornered Hamas decided to establish a unity government with rival Fatah after years of futile negotiations. In general, the entire Middle East has changed since 2010, when Turkey and Israel cut relations because of the Mavi Marmara crisis.

In addition, the discovery of rich natural reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean introduced a new dimension to future bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the region. Turkey is seen as the most convenient transit country for the transportation of both Israeli and Cypriot gas and oil reserves, according to many experts.

In sum, there is a lot to talk about between Turkey and Israel, in the event of ambassadors being exchanged as a result of the conclusion of the compensation deal. In an increasingly unstable Middle East, cooperation between Turkey and Israel is inevitable. The two countries should delay this process no longer and should leave old disputes behind so that they can contribute to regional stability.