Are mutual of isolation turkey, israel closer?
December 29, 2015 - Written by admin

Fmutual feelings of isolation pushing Turkey, Israel closer?

Pedestrians look at billboards with pictures of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu (L), in Ankara, March 25, 2013. The billboard reads, “Israel apologized to Turkey. Dear Prime Minister [Erdogan], We are grateful that you let our country [Turkey] experience this pride.” (photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

Author Semih Idiz

Are mutual feelings of isolation pushing Turkey, Israel closer?
The current effort by Turkey and Israel to mend fences appears to be more a product of necessity than affinity. Both need to break out of their regional isolation.
It remains unclear whether Ankara’s attempts to normalize ties with Israel represents a new orientation in Turkey’s foreign policy.
Tellingly, this development follows Turkey’s crisis with Russia, a situation that has not only further weakened Ankara’s hand in Syria and Iraq, but has also forced Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to seek alternative energy sources to reduce Turkey’s dependence on Russian supplies. Press reports indicate that Turkey and Israel are talking about energy cooperation, given the discovery of vast gas reserves in the Mediterranean that Israel wants to pump to international markets via Turkey.

Israeli media broke the news that senior officials from the two countries had met Dec. 16 in Zurich to thrash out an agreement aimed at normalizing ties. Turkish-Israeli ties took a nosedive in 2010, after Israeli commandoes raided the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara as it tried to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, killing nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists. Turkey demanded that Israel publicly apologize, pay compensation for the activists’ deaths and lift the siege on Gaza.

Under pressure from US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in March 2013. Talks on compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims remained inconclusive, however, and Israel gave no indication that it would lift the siege. Ankara at the moment remains cautious, although it appears to be more conciliatory toward Israel.

“A deal has not been signed yet. Work on the preliminary draft is still ongoing,” Omer Celik, spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told reporters Dec. 20. “The Israeli state and Israeli people are friends of Turkey. Our criticism is directed at the Israeli government’s extreme behavior, and its behavior that we don’t consider legitimate.”

Erdogan, known for his vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric, also appears to be acting in a more conciliatory manner, although his latest remarks point to potential difficulties for the current efforts at rapprochement.

“We asked for an apology and got it. We asked for compensation, but this has not happened yet. We also said the embargo against Palestine must be lifted and this too has not happened,” Erdogan told reporters Dec. 13 on his plane returning from a visit to Turkmenistan. “If compensation is given, and the Palestinian embargo is lifted, then we can enter a process of normalization. [Turkey], Israel, Palestine and the region will gain much from this.”

Diplomats are reportedly working on an intermediary formula to meet Turkey’s Gaza demand, which involves an aid corridor for the besieged enclave. For Israel, an outstanding issue is limiting Hamas activities in Turkey and the expulsion of Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas member living in Istanbul and accused of involvement in attacks on Israelis.

Turkish officials say Hamas is not part of the current negotiations. As if to underline this point, Erdogan received Hamas’ political bureau chief, Khaled Meshaal, Dec. 19 in Istanbul. Meshaal also held talks with Davutoglu the day after in Ankara. Some have interpreted Meshaal’s visit from the opposite perspective, arguing that he was in Turkey to be informed about the efforts to normalize Turkish-Israeli ties and to be reassured that this development does not represent a betrayal of Hamas.

If rapprochement with Israel can be achieved, it might have broader significance for Turkey’s general foreign policy orientation. It could signal that Ankara’s populist approach, predicated on Erdogan’s hard-line, Islam-based moralistic and ideological stance, might be replaced with a more realistic reading of international relations.

Ankara’s one-dimensional approach to the crises in Syria, Iraq and Egypt and its mistaken assumptions about the Arab world have reduced Turkey’s clout in the region significantly over the past four years, leaving it generally on the sidelines.
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