Defying diplomatic good sense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he opposes a resumption of Turkey's efforts to mediate between Israel and Syria in light of the Turks' recent behavior. In his view, Turkey can no longer be described as an "honest broker." This is an empty threat, mainly because the Netanyahu government has not shown any interest in resuming peace talks with Syria, with or without a mediator. Thus the real harm done by Netanyahu's words lies in his eagerness to repay Turkey, and especially its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in double measure for its criticism of Israel. This is an unnecessary duel that both sides, Turkey and Israel, ought to try to calm.
Turkey has close relations with Syria, Iran, Egypt and the Gulf states, and also with Israel. It succeeded in reviving the talks between Israel and Syria and has offered its services in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the talks over Gilad Shalit's release. At the same time, Turkey is not the only friendly country that has joined the international outrage over the way Israel harmed innocent civilians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The list of countries that supported the UN Human Rights Council's decision to adopt the Goldstone report is not limited to those that belong to the "automatic majority" against Israel. Even Britain and France opted to skip the vote rather than oppose the Goldstone report.
The implicit assumption in Netanyahu's remarks - that the leader of the only Muslim country that maintains truly normalized relations with Israel is supposed to close his eyes to the brutality of the Gaza operation - attests to Israel's blindness, above all.
The Turks do not deserve to be punished by Netanyahu, even if their prime minister has employed a crude vocabulary and attacked Israel publicly over its responsibility for the deaths of innocents. Good relations with Turkey are vital to Israel's security and economic interests. And Turkey deserves praise for its willingness to restart the negotiations with Syria.
In contrast to Israel, Turkey understands the need to distinguish between negotiations and rebukes. And it is not Turkey that will suffer if it is removed from the list of honest brokers. Rather, it is Israel, which is liable to lose an important channel of communications that could facilitate future talks with Damascus.
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