Israel waiting for gesture

Israel waiting for gesture

“The heart has reasons that reason cannot know” is a famous saying of French philosopher Blaise Pascal. It was quoted by Yaşar Yakış, former foreign minister during the first Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, when he visited the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) last week to speak at a closed event. This made him the first Turkish official to pay a visit to the Knesset since January 2010.

Normalization between Turkey and Israel is almost here. Israel has fulfilled two of the conditions which Turkey had imposed to normalize relations, by apologizing and agreeing to pay compensation to the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara. The third condition, which is the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, has retarded the normalization process. Yet this also seems to be fulfilled.

Last week for the first time, Israel let in the construction materials into the Gaza Strip which Turkey needs to build a hospital in Gaza. This is what Turkey has recently consented to: Not the total lifting of the blockade, but its easing so that Turkey could provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

The political will on both sides is also as steady as a rock. Both governments have downplayed the Mavi Marmara court’s verdict this week which issued international arrest warrants against four senior Israeli officers. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “this decree is a separate issue and ours is a separate issue at the state level.”

Israel reacted similarly. The only official explanation has come from Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who also downplayed it by saying that this verdict is rather a political act. Speaking to Yaşar Yakış, he also confirmed that there is a very strong will from the Israeli side. Why, then, have we still not normalized our ties?

I spoke to Arad Nir, who is in the inner circle of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and knows Turkey very well. He has also met Erdoğan on several occasions and attended the closed Knesset meeting last week.

According to Nir, the problem is a very personal one: Netanyahu doesn’t trust Erdoğan and expects him to attack Israel again. Yet Nir argues that a gesture from Turkey would be enough to overcome this distrust.

But what kind of a gesture is that? According to international law, the Turkish government must approach Interpol so that the Mavi Marmara verdict can be implemented. Hence Turkey could declare that it will not approach Interpol. Nir adds that Gabby Levy, Israel’s last ambassador to Ankara who was expelled from Turkey following the Mavi Marmara incident, also expects Ankara to take such a step.

Or, the Turkish government could stop the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), which was in charge of the Mavi Marmara flotilla, from carrying on judicial claims against Israel. Alternatively, Erdoğan could visit Gaza by passing through Jerusalem where he could also meet Netanyahu.

Nir bases the strong will of both sides on natural gas. Accordingly, the only viable option to export Israeli gas is by transporting it to Turkey via an underwater gas pipeline. All other options have been crossed out. Moreover, he argues that Erdoğan changed his attitude toward Israel 180 degrees once he realized the gas potential and that he was the one who is most pushing for reconciliation. However, first trust needs to be rebuilt before building a gas route.

Coming back to the top: Erdoğan’s reasons seem to have convinced his heart. Now it’s Netahyahu’s turn. But he might need some help being convinced.