Despite the Delay, Israel's Reconciliation Deal With Turkey Is Welcome News

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Despite its highs and lows, Israel values relations with Turkey far more than those with Armenia: A billboard celebrating Netanyahu's 2013 apology to Erdogan for the Mavi Marmara affair
What Netanyahu rejected two years ago, he finally accepted two days ago.Credit: AP

The prime minister agonized and deliberated, tarried and delayed for months and years until this week, he finally decided in favor of the reconciliation agreement with Turkey.

Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped the regional situation would change – for instance, that Turkey would be weakened by Russia, or that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister who became president and acts like a sultan, would lose power. But in any case, the wait did nothing to improve the agreement; what Netanyahu rejected two years ago, he finally accepted two days ago.

Every compromise involves uncomfortable concessions, both substantive ones and the very fact of retreating from demands presented to the other side. Turkey, like Israel, emerged from the negotiations with only half of what it wanted. But scrutiny of the deal’s specific provisions, important though they are, is liable to miss the main point: The agreement’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The main benefit to Israel stems from rehabilitating the Jerusalem-Ankara relationship and removing the obstacle Erdogan had posed to Israel’s participation in frameworks that require consensus, like NATO. Even if, in the Erdogan era, we can’t expect a return to the peak period of relations in the 1990s – when, under the auspices of the Oslo process, the Israel-Jordan-Turkey troika was created under an American umbrella – Turkey’s shift from hostility to diplomatic correctness still has great value.

The fact that Turkey is now positioned to serve as a kind of mediator between Israel and Hamas is also important. The absence of a channel for dialogue between Jerusalem and Gaza stood out clearly during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, when Egypt, headed by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, was sympathetic to Israel and hostile toward Hamas.

This bias was admittedly convenient for Israel, but on the other hand, it precluded the existence of a mechanism for negotiations of the kind that existed under former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party, and which resulted in Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 being much shorter and less costly than Protective Edge in 2014.

It’s essential that in times of crisis, whether the parties are on the brink of escalation or at the height of a conflict, there be some third party acceptable to both sides who can find points of compromise between them. The Turks can be such a party.

The expected improvement in the economic situation of Gaza’s population, which will result from the relaxation of the blockade on Gaza and the transfer to the Strip of additional merchandise, is also a net gain for everyone. The return of the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul isn’t directly connected to this issue, and with all our understanding of and solidarity with the families’ deep mourning, fulfillment of the agreement shouldn’t be conditioned on this.

The opposition to the agreement by ministers from the Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi factions isn’t serious. It’s meant to distinguish them from Netanyahu and to outflank him from the right. Anyone who cares about Israel’s welfare, and not just reaping political capital, must support the agreement, which ought to be followed by a generous diplomatic initiative toward those who are missing from it – the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

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