Kiss and make up with Israel

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that Turkey and Israel have agreed on the wording of an apology that is acceptable to both sides, and that for better or worse Turkey said the demand for an official apology had been met. Israel has already said it regretted the loss of life and property damage. Therefore, it would be a bit of a stretch from that to publicly extend an apology to the Turkish government.

I believe that will be the likely outcome of the current debacle between the two friends who have for some time been doing their best to put in their two cents at every imaginable opportunity they can exploit. However, more and more people in Ankara have begun to come back to their senses and acknowledge that the longer the current stalemate lasts, the more damage it will inflict on Turkish national interests.

The opposite could be said for the Israeli side as well. Israeli diplomats whom I have spoken with say the matter has gained a real sense of urgency and should be settled quickly. If you ask me, I am of the opinion that both sides really need to kiss and make up, hoping to open a new chapter in relations. Simple logic dictates this. Because of tense relations between the two countries, the Middle East track is missing the Turkish element and Syrian-Israeli negotiations cannot, in all likelihood, be kicked off without Turkish help.

However, that does not mean the Turks will easily forgive the Israelis for what they have done. Nobody could deny the gravity of the situation in which eight Turks and one US citizen were killed in international waters. The United Nations Human Rights Commission puts the blame squarely on Israel for that. I think most Jews, at least the ones I talked to, do not condone the actions and human rights violations committed by the Israeli commandos on the high seas. We can still move on, nonetheless, no matter how painful it may feel.

As for the second Turkish demand, compensation for the victims and their families, we can float different ideas and employ new mechanisms to provide some kind of closure for the families. When the public’s conscience is assuaged, the political actors will feel freer to conduct their own work, hopefully delegating the task to professionals and diplomats.

However, we face a challenge posed by two major impediments to moving on to a settlement of these two demands. One is more than obvious: the ultra-hardliner wing of the current Israeli coalition in power. They do not seem to be interested in any sort of solution and are keen to escalate tensions with their only Muslim ally in the region. If it is any relief, this belligerent attitude is not uniquely addressed to the Turkish nation. Avigdor Lieberman does this to everybody, including, but not limited to, Israel’s closest ally, America. Even visiting US Vice President Joe Biden was rebuffed when he was in Israel as the new settlement policy was announced.

As Jewish ultra-conservative politicians play with a poke-your-friend’s eye policy and take more inflexible stances, their electoral base is mobilized and energized, paying dividends in elections. The shortsightedness of this policy risks endangering the lives of many Jews around the world and fuels anti-Semitism. We see more and more Jewish intellectuals voicing strong opposition to this vicious cycle, and most Jews recognize it goes against the long-term national interests of the Jewish state.

I would say another major challenge for Turks and Israelis alike is time. Unfortunately for the moment we simply cannot afford the luxury of extra time on our hands in Turkey as the nation gears up for the mid-summer 2011 general elections. Though we do not have a coalition government in Turkey and the current government is more pragmatic than any other government in Turkish history, it would still prove to be more difficult to maneuver when the election clock is ticking close to the heart.

Therefore, if something needs to be played down to smooth out problems with Israel, the time is now. The government has just renewed their mandate after a landslide victory in a public referendum on constitutional changes and will be willing to take more risks in the windfall. The Israeli side should also capitalize on this opening and ought to do much work on it own on the domestic front as well. They must simply keep a lid on Lieberman and muzzle his belligerent, provocative rhetoric. He must be forced to make compromises for the sake of the Jewish state’s future. Neither he nor his comrades are more valuable than the safety and security of Israel, after all.

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