Reconcile With Turkey

It’s time for Israel to sign an ageement and bring to an end the sorry affair of the Mavi Marmara that ruptured ties with a strategic ally.

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It looks as if a compensation agreement with Turkey is on the verge of being signed. If so, it is expected to bring the superfluous three-and-a-half-year rift between the two countries to an end and offer an opportunity to turn over a new leaf in bilateral relations.

Looking back, one can’t help but criticize the Israeli government’s conduct throughout the whole affair, from the decision in late May 2010 to attack the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, which it saw as undermining Israeli sovereignty, through the way the raid on the Mavi Marmara was conducted, resulting in the death of nine Turkish nationals, and ending with the arrogant shirking of responsibility for the incident and the rejection of all demands for an apology and compensation.

The Mavi Marmara affair, whose failures were sharply criticized by the Turkel Committee that investigated it, evolved from the brutal blockade that Israel had imposed on Gaza four years earlier. This blockade provoked international criticism, not just from Turkey. Overnight, the incident dissolved the excellent relations that had prevailed between the two countries for decades, including during the first years that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development party was in power. In addition to undermining the close military and security cooperation between the two countries, the incident also caused a deep rift between the two peoples.

Turkey, though it was critical of Israeli policy in the territories even before Erdogan came to power, knew how to distinguish between diplomatic disputes and the firm infrastructure on which its ties with Israel were based. But it could not restrain itself when confronted with the killing of its citizens, certainly not when faced with Israel’s dismissive attitude and refusal to apologize for fear that that would undermine the legitimacy of its attack on the Marmara. It’s doubtful that any country, including Israel, would have responded differently if it had been in Turkey’s position.

Still, it took more than two years before Israel would agree to admit to “mistakes that could have led to the loss of human life,” and even that only came after heavy pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama. Another year was needed to bargain about the level of compensation Israel was to pay, while in the meantime Israel also agreed to ease the Gaza blockade. During those three-and-a-half years, Israel spent a great deal of time demonizing Turkey.

Turkey is the only Muslim country that has close ties with Israel, and it is of great strategic importance to the region. Israel cannot afford to give up its good relations with Ankara. A reconciliation agreement, the reappointment of ambassadors and reopening a channel of formal engagement would mark the end of the mutual settling of accounts. The State of Israel will also have to work to rehabilitate its relations with the Turkish people.

Protesters in Istanbul's Taksim Square, June 8, 2013. Credit: AFP

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