The thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations has climbed to the top of the agenda in terms of foreign policy and domestic affairs. It was just the opposite of previous talks when Turkey set out the conditions; this time, Israel
is playing the “Hamas” card. Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
is reluctant to make any agreements as long as Turkey’s support for Hamas continues. He has also given instructions to look for options to exclude Turkey from the sale of natural gas produced in the Mediterranean.
The already-tense relations between Turkey and Israel
because of Gaza were totally broken on the morning of May 31, 2010, when the Mavi Marmara flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to break the embargo of Gaza was raided by the Israeli army. Ten people were killed, nine of them Turkish citizens and one an American-Turkish citizen. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were consequently lowered to the second secretary level. During the five-and-a-half years that have passed since, officials of the two countries have met from time to time to try to sign a deal.
After a meeting in Rome in June 2015, there was another Turkish-Israeli meeting last week in Switzerland. There were suggestions in the press that relations would normalize after a meeting between Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Israel’s Yossi Cohen.
Both sides confirmed the Switzerland talks but announced that there was no deal. Israeli and Turkish diplomatic sources told daily Hürriyet that a text had been drafted and submitted for the approval of political authorities in the two countries. In the text, there are details that were also in the first deal regarding Israel’s payment of compensation to the victims of the Mavi Marmara flotilla, Turkey’s withdrawal of legal cases opened against the soldiers who raided the ships, the mutual reappointment of ambassadors and an upgrade in relations to the ambassadorial level.
However, there are two new subjects that were broached in the latest talks. One of them is for Turkey to take into consideration Israel’s sensitivity on the topic of Hamas. The second one is the declaration of goodwill on a natural gas deal between Turkey and Israel.
While returning from Turkmenistan on Dec. 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
said: “We had three chapters related to Israel. We said, ‘apology’ and that has happened. We said ‘compensation’ and that did not happen. We also said ‘lift the embargo on Palestine.’ The last two items have not happened. I said ‘if [conditions on] compensation and the lifting of the embargo on Palestine are met, we can start the normalization process.’ There are many things that we, Israel, Palestine and the region would gain out of this normalization process. The region needs this.”
A statement from Ömer Çelik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), after an AKP meeting was welcomed by Israel. However, according to diplomatic sources, the silence of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
created the impression that a consensus on this in Ankara
has not yet been reached.
In previous talks, Israel
has been persistent for a deal while Turkey was taking it slowly. However, Turkey’s most recent crisis with Russia
and regional developments have changed Israel’s stance. Now, Israel
is setting the conditions for Turkey.
For Tel Aviv, the biggest obstacle to a deal is not Gaza but Hamas because it expects Ankara
to distance itself from Hamas and limit the organization’s activities in Turkey and has demanded that Turkey deport one of the important names of the military wing, Salih al-Aruri. While Ankara
has emphasized that al-Aruri is not in Turkey, Israel
has opposed reducing the Hamas problem to al-Aruri alone. One Israeli diplomatic source highlighted that even at a time when the convergence between Israel
and Turkey is being discussed, Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal was hosted as a top-level guest in Turkey and a photo of him with the prime minister was released to the media, implying that Turkey was not enthusiastic about a deal.
If the two countries agree, then there might be cooperation between Israel
and Turkey on natural gas exploration and the transfer of the generated gas to final markets.
But Turkey, even if relations are not normalized, nevertheless wants the commercial project to be given priority above politics and brought to fruition.