Turkish-Israeli Reconciliation: Can Egypt Facilitate?
GALİA LİNDENSTRAUSS / DARA FRANK
Since the leaking of the Palmer Report and the ensuing reactions of Turkey and Israel, there seems to be little room for hope regarding Turkish-Israeli relations. Still, it is in both Turkey’s and Israel’s long-term strategic interest to re-create a semblance of positive relations. While attempts for bilateral reconciliation between Israel and Turkey continue, it seems that in order to reach a compromise, Turkey and Israel might also need the help of a third party. The U.S. has tried to mediate between the sides to no avail. European countries might prove to be problematic mediators because of the tensions resulting from the stall in the process of Turkey’s accession to the EU. Others might wish to mediate, but it may actually be Egypt who will prove to be the most suitable third party to assist the sides in reaching a successful agreement.
Egypt has always enjoyed regional clout. Since the disposal of Mubarak, even though a transitional government is in power, it has surprisingly played a significant role regarding the Palestinian issue. Egypt presided over the signing of a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah and continues to assist in fostering this unity. Egypt also helped bring to closing the Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas by encouraging both Israel and Hamas to make concessions they had previously rejected. Egyptian intelligence officials were also in the process of arranging a ceasefire between the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad group and Israel in the recent flare-up in violence.
While Egypt would in no case want to be seen as Israel’s advocate, it is also in Egypt’s geo-political interest to mediate reconciliation between Turkey and Israel. It would give Egypt another opportunity to demonstrate its influence in the region. By brokering an agreement, Egypt will also strengthen its relationship with the U.S., as there is a keen American interest that Turkey and Israel reconcile their differences. Another compelling reason for Egypt to broker negotiations would be to mask the challenges of democratic progress and its domestic difficulties by presenting an impression of governmental efficiency in the foreign affairs of the country.
Turkey has presented Israel with three conditions that must be met for full diplomatic relations to be restored: A formal apology must be issued, compensations must be given to the victims’ families and those injured and Israel must remove the blockade on Gaza. Of the three conditions, it appears that a formula to solve the compensation issue has basically been reached in previous negotiations and would involve Israel transferring money to a fund designated for this purpose. The other two conditions have proved to be much more problematic. Many within the Israeli political system and – according to polls – most of the Israeli public, highly object to the idea of a formal apology being issued. Also, during the time of the Palmer Report, another big challenge in reaching a settlement was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s objection to issuing an apology. However, if he were to change his mind in the future, there is enough support in the defense ministry and in some Israeli opinion leaders to enable him to issue such an apology.
The third condition Turkey stipulated, the removal of the blockade over Gaza, instilled many Israelis with the impression that Turkey was not actually interested in improving relations with Israel. However, as the blockade has already been eased and because Egypt has declared it will now keep the Rafah crossing open, the situation is different from when Israel first implemented the blockade in 2007. Israel will have to make more concessions on the matter, but Egypt might deduce the formula that will leave less room for Turkey to use this matter as a reason not to restore relations with Israel.
Will both sides agree to Egyptian mediation? The Israeli government has already expressed its desire to maintain working relations with Egypt and has also demonstrated its trust in Egyptian mediation efforts. On the other hand, Turkey has stated in the past that Israel and Turkey do not need mediation as Turkey has clearly presented the conditions that should be met. Moreover, it is Turkey that sees itself as the leading regional mediator. Still, if a deal will be struck in a way that it will be presented within the larger agenda of Turkey embracing the new Egypt, maybe there will be more openness on the Turkish side to accept Egyptian efforts.
*Gallia Lindenstrauss is an associate researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University, Israel; Dara Frank is an intern at the INSS
GALİA LİNDENSTRAUSS / DARA FRANK