Israel Should Compensate Gaza Flotilla Victims

Israel can take several steps to defuse tensions between itself and Turkey.

The waves caused by the raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla have somewhat subsided, but it's clear the change in Turkey's attitude toward Israel is part of broader foreign policy changes initiated by Ankara's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Still, Israel would be wise to consider what it can do to lower the flame, even a bit.

Since its founding by Kemal Ataturk, the Republic of Turkey has conducted foreign policy as if it were under siege. Turkey long saw itself as surrounded by enemies: Greece, Iran, the Arab world and Russia. That's why it maintained a strong army, which held Turkish society under an iron fist. That - and not love of democracy - is why the country joined NATO, and why it saw any chip at the mythos of the indivisibility of Turkish nationhood (the Kurds, for one ) as an existential threat.

flotilla - AP - November 23 2010

Davutoglu has realized this is now an anachronistic worldview, and has replaced it with an ethos in which Turkey's role is to defuse regional conflicts. Given the complex composition of Turkish society, according to this thinking, external disputes are more than likely to turn into internal conflicts. With such a sharp diversion from the original philosophy of a single Turkish nation, Davutoglu and his supporters are essentially admitting that Turkey contains more Azeris than Azerbaijan, more Bosnians than Bosnia, more Albanians than Albania and more Kurds than Iraqi Kurdistan. That's why they view any quarrels in those countries as likely to spill over to Turkey itself.

This new creed has had tangible internal ramifications: The ruling, Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party has shown more flexibility toward the Kurdish minority. The restraints put on the military's power can also be traced to a feeling that the supposed siege on the country has been eased. Still, the most significant implications of this new policy have been in foreign relations: reconciliation attempts with Armenia; a thaw in relations with Greece; and more moderate positions on Cyprus, Bosnia and Kosovo. Turkey has toned down its opposition to Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq and trying to work toward an agreement on Iran's nuclear program. The offer to mediate talks between Israel and Syria is also linked to the government's "zero conflict" policy.

But any policy taken to the extreme is likely to lead, almost dialectically, to the opposite result. Pursuing compromise on the Iranian nuclear issue is one thing; forging a Turkish-Iranian-Brazilian alliance against the United States (for example, voting against Washington in the UN Security Council ) is quite another. Criticizing Israeli policy in the West Bank is one thing; the tongue-lashing the Turkish prime minister delivered Israel in Davos is quite another.

Several Turkish officials have wondered aloud whether such tactics are going too far. Israel has to encourage these people - one of the ways of doing so is changing its position on the flotilla raid. Most Turks believe Israel murdered nine Turkish citizens in international waters. Israel could announce that there is no place for a public apology, but that as a humanitarian gesture, it is willing to create a fund for compensating the families of those killed in the May operation. A willingness to provide a one-time payment to each family (a sum of $200,000 has been mentioned ) could take some of the bite out of the current enmity between the two nations. It could also drive a wedge between the Turkish government and the families of the dead. Perhaps not all of them would be willing to accept payment, but offering it would be a humane, ethical gesture for all to see, one that may ultimately even bear diplomatic fruit.