Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Turkey's Difficult Choice in
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, March
An Israeli-Turkish rapprochement is unmistakably underway, but
unlike the heyday of their political alignment of the1990’s, the
revamped relationship is likely to be more guarded and will pose a
greater challenge to Turkey rather than to Israel.
referenced a report by Turkish newspaper Radikal with much interest,
regarding secret talks between Turkey and Israel that could yield an
Israeli apology for its army’s raid against the Turkish aid flotilla,
the Mavi Marmara, which was on its way to Gaza in May 2010. The assault
resulted in the death of 9 Turkish activists, including a US citizen.
The attack wrought a crisis unseen since the rise of the
Turkish-Israeli alliance starting in 1984, followed by a full blown
strategic partnership in 1996. But that crisis didn’t necessarily start
at the Mavi Marmara deadly attack, or previous Israeli insults of
Turkey. Nor did it begin with the Israeli so-called Operation Cast Lead
against besieged Gaza in Dec 2008, which resulted in the death and
wounding of thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians.
According to the Radikal report (published in Feb 20 and cited by
Israeli Haaretz two days later), Israel is willing to meet two of
Turkey’s conditions for the resumption of full ties: an apology, and
compensation to the families of the victims. “Turkey has also demanded
Israel lift the siege,” on Gaza, Haaretz reported, citing Radikal, “but
is prepared to drop that demand.”
The reports of secret talks
are not new. Similar reports had surfaced of talks in Geneva and Cairo.
Turkish-Israeli reconciliation has, at least for a while, been an
important item on the US foreign policy agenda in the Middle East, until
few months ago when the US elections pushed everything else to the
backseat. But despite fiery rhetoric, the signs of a thawing conflict
are obvious. Writing in Al-Ahram Weekly on Jan. 16, Galal Nassar
attributed that Tel Aviv is working “its idiosyncratic ways to patch up
what it regarded as a passing storm cloud in its relations with its
friend, and perhaps strategic ally.” Turkey, responded in kind, in its
decision “to lift its veto against Israeli participation in non-military
activities in NATO.”
Leaked news of a political settlement are
not the only headlines related to this topic. There is also the matter
of military and economic cooperation, which are even more common.
According to FlightGlobal.com, reporting on Feb. 21, the Israeli
government has agreed to the delivery of electronic support measures
(ESM) equipment “to be installed on the Turkish air force's new Boeing
737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system aircraft.”
Meanwhile, a large Turkish conglomerate Zorlu Group “has been working in
recent months to convince the Israeli government and the Leviathan gas
field partners to approve energy exports to Turkey,” TheMarker has
learned, as reported in Haaretz on Feb 14.
This is only the tip
of the iceberg. If these reports are even partially credible,
Turkish-Israeli relations are being carefully, but decidedly repaired.
This stands in contrast with declared Turkish foreign policy and the
many passionate statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan and other leading Turkish politicians.
Following a Nov
16 Friday prayer, The New York Times reported from Istanbul that Erdogan
denied any talks between his country and Israel regarding resolving a
crisis instigated by another Israeli assault on Gaza. He went even
further, “We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with
Israel,” he reportedly said. At a parliamentary meeting few days later,
he described Israel’s conduct in Gaza as “ethnic cleansing.”
Nov 20, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in Gaza on a
solidarity visit, along with an Arab League delegation in an
unprecedented show of solidarity. In a strange contrast with the spirit
of his mission, however, “Davutoglu suggested to reporters that
back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities,”
according to the Times.
But why the contradictions, the apparent
Turkish turnabout and if full rapprochement is in fact achieved, will
the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) be able to sustain its
still successful brand in the Middle East that was largely achieved as a
result of its pro-Palestinian policies?
Here, we must get
something straight; the strong and growing pro-Palestinian sentiment in
Turkey is not the outcome of self-serving political agenda, neither of
the AKP nor of any other. The support for Palestinians was most apparent
in the June 2011 elections, which was convincingly won by the Erdogan
party. “Turks voted on two ‘p's’ -- their pocketbooks and Palestine,”
Steven A. Cook wrote in the Atlantic on Jan 28. “Erdogan, who plans to
be Turkey's president one day and who believes that the AKP will be
dominant for at least another decade, is unlikely to be receptive to a
substantial improvement in Ankara's ties with Jerusalem.” If the
centrality of Palestine is so essential to Turkish political awareness,
then no ambitious politician – for example, Erdogan, Davutoglu or
President Abdullah Gül - are likely to gamble with a major departure
from their current policies.
That might be entirely true if one
discounts the Syria factor, which along with the so-called Arab Spring
has complicated Turkey’s regional standing that until two years ago was
predicated on reaching out to Iran, Syria, Libya and other Middle
Eastern partners. For years prior to the current turmoil, Turkey had
cautiously yet cogently adopted a new foreign policy that aimed at
balancing out its near total reliance on NATO and the West in general.
It mended its ties with its immediate neighbors in the East, including
Iran, but polarization created by the Syria civil war has ended Turkey’s
balancing act, at least for the time being.
Turkey’s request for
the deployment of Patriot missile batteries along its border with Syria,
its role in supporting the Syria National Council and its attempt at
coaxing various Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria are all
proving consistent with old Turkish policies. Indeed, Davutoglu’s
zero-problems with neighbors doctrine is but a historical footnote.
The Syrian war has placed Turkey back within a Western camp, although
not with the same decisiveness of the past, when Turkey’s generals
discounted all other alliances in favor of NATO’s. This is representing
an opening for Israel, which with the support of US President Barack
Obama’s new administration is likely to translate to some measures of
normalization. The degree of that normalization will depend largely on
which direction the Syrian civil war is heading and the degree of
receptiveness on Turkish streets in seeing Israel once more paraded as
Turkey’s strategic partner.
Some commentators suggest that
Egypt’s own foreign policy towards Israel – Egypt currently being the
main country in the Middle East with the ‘leverage’ of talking to both
Israel and the Palestinians – is depriving Turkey from a strong
bargaining position within NATO. By having no open contacts with Israel,
some suggest Turkey is losing favor with the US and other western
partners. Interestingly, Israel’s planned apology, according to Radikal,
is supposedly timed with Obama’s visit to Israel in March.
Neither Turkey and Israel, nor the US and NATO are able to sustain the
status quo – the rift between Israel and Turkey – for much longer. But
returning to an old paradigm, where Turkey is no longer an advocate of
Palestinian rights and a champion of Arab and Muslim causes, could prove
even more costly. There can be no easy answers, especially as the region
seems to be changing partly through unpredictable dynamics.
Erdogan and his party may eventually concoct an answer. This could
include Israel and a new set of balances that would allow them access to
both East and West. But that answer would no longer be the upright,
high-minding politics Erdogan constantly advocates, but instead good old
self-serving policies and nothing else.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom
Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).