We Can Criticize Netanyahu for Many Things, but Not for Reconciling With Turkey

When even the leader of the opposition blasts the prime minister for making peace with the Turks, this is political chicanery of the highest order.

Yehuda Ben Meir
Yehuda Ben-Meir
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 2016.Credit: Sebastian Scheine/AP
Yehuda Ben Meir
Yehuda Ben-Meir

We must congratulate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for achieving the reconciliation agreement with Turkey last week. The deal advances Israel’s defense, diplomatic and economic interests. Netanyahu acted carefully and did not yield – this time, the cynics will add – to populism, demagogy and ignorance. Yet the ink was barely dry when the hysteria began: Surrender; harms our national honor; servitude; lack of concern for the families with loved ones held in Gaza – all baseless claims.

We should not be surprised that the opposition is coming from the extreme right, from the home of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – after all, they object to any and every agreement and arrangement, and are the self-appointed guardians of our “national honor.”

But when the objections also come from the head of the opposition, MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), this is hypocrisy and stupidity rolled into one. Is there any doubt that, if Herzog were prime minister, he wouldn’t sign such an agreement?

When political leaders fail to address the issue in a substantive manner but through political considerations, they lose their credibility and the trust of the public. This is also true for members of the cabinet.

There is no shortage of issues where Netanyahu’s actions merit heavy criticism, beginning with the damage done to our relations with the United States, his handling of the world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran, and his behavior regarding the Israeli soldier being tried for manslaughter after shooting a Palestinian assailant. But when Netanyahu acts properly – like in the reconciliation deal with Turkey – he deserves our support. And when this support is lacking, it calls into question the sincerity and credibility of criticism in other areas.

The reconciliation deal is not a document of surrender but, like all agreements, a compromise that both sides can live with. It’s worth remembering that the “apology” causing all this anger was actually delivered three years ago, personally brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama at the end of his successful and important visit to Israel. Netanyahu has not apologized for the blockade of Gaza, or for stopping the Mavi Marmara, or for the Israeli navy’s operation, but only for mistakes made, if any were made, during the operation.

The singling out of the $21 million compensation – which will be distributed by the Turks to the families of those killed and injured, as a humanitarian gesture – is ridiculous. Such payments are common in international diplomacy and have been made in similar cases by far larger and more powerful countries than Israel, such as the United States. No one there viewed it as harming national honor.

We do not need to be impressed by the boasting of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It’s worth remembering that, just two months ago, the Turks announced that without the blockade on Gaza being lifted, no agreement would be signed. Yet the maritime blockade was not lifted, not even weakened. Even after this agreement, no foreign vessel will reach the shores of Gaza, and the Israel Navy will continue to enforce the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

With all the pain, understanding and solidarity with the families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, we need to recognize that combining the Turkey agreement and the soldiers’ bodies being held by Hamas is out of place. Hamas does not take orders from Turkey and will not return the bodies without a quid pro quo from Israel. This is a matter we will have to decide on another day.

The agreement with Turkey is an Israeli achievement, and we must give it our blessing.

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