Israeli apology and Turkey: At last, back to regional logic

 

It is not just a relief for President Barack Obama and good news for the US Congress, but a major development that means an open path back to basics, which will be a major game-changer for the region.

This can be said about the Israeli government’s apology for the Mavi Marmara tragedy and its promise of compensation: The world is rapidly changing. As Turkey has done, so will Israel. These “interesting” times do not reward those who are stuck in old ways of thinking.

Ever since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert let down Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan days before Operation Cast Lead, I have been one of those who maintained that Israeli politics has been dominated by erratic reasoning, reaching its peak with the bloody flotilla episode that severed relations between Turkey and Israel — two bumpy, nevertheless functioning democracies in the region.

 

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As the period of frost between them showed, it left them as concerned neighbors, as the carnage (a word Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used at the side of Obama) escalated in Syria and as Iran both directly and through Iraq tries to widen the sectarian gap. At the far end, people watch with concern as Egypt helplessly tumbles into uncertainty, losing much of its diplomatic leverage for peacemaking with regard to Palestinians.

 

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There are a large number of reasons for the regional logic that now prevails for both. The “cold bullying” between them has weakened the role of the US in the Middle East. Both for Netanyahu and Erdoğan, their interests with regard to the security dimensions of the Syrian quagmire clearly converge. A quick return to various forms of cooperation that will maintain the stability of the neighborhood is required.

It has also to do with the emerging dynamics and demands for change that puts pressure on both. Netanyahu said after meeting Obama that he is for a two-state solution, and Erdoğan seems determined to put an end to Turkey’s gangrenous Kurdish conflict.

If serious and successful, both governments can show that they can overcome their mistrust and differences, setting examples for the region — that it is only the format of democracies that can help adopt to the changing times. This is expected of them, and they should deliver — for Palestinians and Kurds.

One light but important aspect of the Israeli move is tourism. As the Haaretz daily reported, the opening of relations will mean an increase of Israeli tourists flocking to Turkish coasts and mountains.

Commercial ties have not been much damaged by the frost. Israel is still the seventh-largest trade partner of Turkey, and, as Haaretz, noted, “Most of the military supply contracts that Israeli companies had with Turkey were even fulfilled.”

Probably the most important dimension of the rapprochement concerns energy. As Michael Koplow, program director of the Israel Institute, wrote in Foreign Affairs: “Turkey has no natural resources of its own. Furthermore, Turkey is paying through the nose for both Russian and Iranian natural gas due to onerous price contracts. Israel, meanwhile, has just discovered two major natural gas basins, the Tamar and Leviathan fields, off its coast in the Eastern Mediterranean. … With Turkey’s economic growth slowing, Israel’s potential as a partner makes reconciliation more attractive now than at any point in recent years.”

But, before that, much damage repair and confidence building needs to be done. “Let us not rush it; we are still at a mental stage between the Davos incident and Mavi Marmara,” said a source close to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. It may be an undue caution, yet if both leaders calculate Israel and Turkey will need each other much more than ever before, they have to change perceptions first.

Israeli politicians’ gravest mistake concerning the AKP and emerging civilian politics was Islamophobia. They must abandon that perception. The AKP is far more globalist and pragmatist than Islamist.

Erdoğan, meanwhile, must help the Turkish public overcome anti-Semitism, as he explained in Vienna and Copenhagen. He must make clear to the Turkish people that Israel, while obliged to stop the oppression of Palestinians once and for all, also has legitimate concerns of safety and terrorism, as he does at home.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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