Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon recently staged a rebuke of the Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv over the contents of a Turkish television show. Israel subsequently apologized, but this will go down as yet another milestone in the ongoing tension between Turkey and Israel.
Despite some Israeli and American efforts to paint Turkey’s objections to Israeli policies as “anti-Semitic,” people in the business of statecraft understand very well where Turkey is coming from.
They recognize that disagreements between Turkey and Israel are likely to continue provided there is no recognizable change in issues such as improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza. They also recognize the complete and immediate freezing of settlements and the overall posture of Israel toward the peace process – if one can still talk about such a process.
I remember vividly the days when the United States criticized Turkey for engaging with Syria at a time when Washington and the Europeans were trying to isolate Syria. Today we see a full reversal of US and European policies; both the US and Europe now recognize that engaging with Syria is the right course of action.
Then, Turkey’s views on the Middle East were shunned and disregarded – in my view, primarily due to the inability to make the mental shift about Turkey and its new posture.
The Americans began to revise their position in 2007 and recognized that Turkey is a regional power and no longer the satellite state of the cold-war years. They understood that Turkey needed to be treated accordingly. It took quite a bit of time and effort to facilitate that mental shift, but President Obama’s early visit to Turkey was a confirmation of that perception vis-à-vis Turkey.
The Europeans still have a hard time making the mental shift concerning Turkey, which is why our relations remain fragile. Israel appears to be in the same position. They also do not seem to have fully accepted that Turkey has changed and that Turkey’s reentry into the Middle East is permanent.
Israel appears to be yearning for the golden 1990s, which were the product of a very specific situation in the region. Those days are over and are unlikely to come back even if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) ends up no longer being in government.
The natural uniting and bonding in Turkey over the Ayalon affair should be an eye-opener for those who believe that all would be dandy if only the AK Party would fall from power. Friends and foes better treat our ambassadors accordingly. Clumsy efforts to humiliate a Turkish ambassador should never be part of Israeli domestic political calculations.
Our regional policy seeks to reintegrate Turkey into its immediate neighborhood, including the Middle East. Turkey is a member of the Group of 20, a current member of the UN Security Council, negotiating with the European Union, and increasingly influential in various regions.
Turkey will continue to advocate a new inclusive order in the region and will seek diplomatic means to further this agenda.
As is confirmed consistently by public-opinion polls, our people and government have great sensitivity to the plight of the Palestinians.
Unless there is visible change addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza and a more constructive position is adopted in relation to making peace with Syria, it is highly unlikely that the quality of the bilateral relationship with Israel will improve.
The first step in the right direction is to recognize the new regional setting and Turkey’s interests in the region. For that to happen, it is necessary to make the necessary mental shift about Turkey.
Suat Kiniklioğlu is deputy chairman of external affairs for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey and a member of the National Assembly.
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