“There is a Future” and Turkish-Israeli Relations

“There is a Future” and Turkish-Israeli Relations

The biggest surprise of the latest Israeli parliamentary elections was the electoral success of Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”), which emerged as the new, strong centrist party in Parliament. Due to its share of mandates (19 out 120) Yesh Atid has become an important partner for any government that will be formed. As all the members in this party are newcomers to Parliament, it is worthwhile to discuss what is known about their views from their public statements and activities in other spheres.

Yesh Atid followed the growing trend in Israel of having journalists as key party members (in comparison, there was a sharp decline in ex-army personnel who were elected). In addition to the party chair, Yair Lapid, who was a columnist and television anchorman before entering politics, another new Yesh Atid member of Parliament is the newspaper and television commentator Ofer Shelah. Shelah is notable since he helped draft the platform for security-related issues in the Yesh Atid party’s program. While these issues were not the main focus of the party’s campaign (and in general were not the key issue of the elections) they are likely to reemerge both in discussions surrounding forming a coalition government and later on.

Yesh Atid’s chair, Yair Lapid, has stressed that he will push to re-launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This in itself is good news for Turkish-Israeli relations as one of the reasons behind the deterioration of relations was the stall in the peace process. But even with regard to Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations, there is a sliver of hope as Yair Lapid, in one of his first major speeches given in Ariel in October 2012, said the rupture with Turkey is damaging. This was voiced as one of his criticisms of the previous government. Moreover, Ofer Shelah has voiced the opinion that not only has the deterioration in relations with Turkey been strategically damaging to Israel, but that the Israeli Defense Forces should question themselves with regard to how they responded in the Mavi Marmara affair. While Ofer Shelah can be seen as the more leftist voice of this centrist party, he is very close to Yair Lapid.

In order for this notion to proceed in the right direction, it must also be stressed that the Israelis are looking for a sign that Turkey is serious about trying to return to normalization. True, it is difficult to detect a real incentive for the Justice and Development Party to repair relations. However, one cannot seriously affect developments in the Middle East without having contact with Israel, and with all the complexities of the Arab Awakening, a strong anti-Israel stance just isn’t enough to gain more influence. A new page in Turkish-Israeli relations will not be only beneficial to the actors themselves (albeit to a different degree) but might also contribute to advancing stability in one of the most unstable regions in the world.

*Gallia Lindenstrauss is an associate researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University.