Why Israel and Turkey Got Back Together
After nearly three years of intense political feuding following the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara -- a ship carrying international activists who were trying to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza -- Turkey and Israel agreed yesterday to resume diplomatic ties. In a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens at the hands of Israeli forces and agreed to pay compensation. In return, Erdogan agreed to normalize relations between the two countries and to drop the prosecutions of Israeli officers in connection with the flotilla raid. Turkey had previously demanded that, in addition to apologizing and paying compensation, Israel lift the blockade. In order to get around this last -- and thorniest -- condition, Netanyahu stressed that Israel has recently eased restrictions on civilian goods coming into Gaza, and he agreed to work with Turkey on improving the humanitarian situation there. The details of the arrangement still need to be worked out, but it appears that the two countries are well on their way to resuming cooperation in a number of areas.
It has been clear for some time that Israel was willing to make an apology to Turkey, but less clear whether Turkey would accept it. Now that election season is over in Israel, Netanyahu no longer has to worry about nationalist criticism over repairing ties with Turkey, and the temporary exclusion of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman from the cabinet removed the biggest obstacle to reconciliation on the Israeli side. But the politics in Turkey are a different story. The Palestinian issue has made Israel deeply unpopular there, and the feud has been politically valuable for Erdogan, who has been able to blast Israel any time he has wanted to divert attention away from sensitive domestic issues. Last month, for example, Turkish headlines were dominated by the government’s negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). When Erdogan publically called Zionism a crime against humanity, he chased the talks right off the front pages.