In February, 2014, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during an interview with Al Jazeera, repeated Turkey’s three preconditions for normalization of relations with Israel: i) the Israeli apology, ii) Israel had to pay for reparations, and iii) the Gaza embargo has to be lifted. Elaborating on the latter he said that “all kinds of aid to go unhindered from Turkey to Palestine.”
Erdoğan, acknowledged the steps that had been taken by Israel through its apology and the negotiations for the reparations payment. However, he did emphasize that the issue of the Gaza embargo is still pending and that normalization of relations without this component will not work.
Right after Erdoğan’s interview, diplomatic sources in Israel said that lifting the Gaza blockade is out of the question. Yet despite these discouraging reports, a few days before the Turkish local elections of March 30th, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç, stated that Turkish-Israeli reconciliation was imminent, after the elections. Although Israeli officials expressed ignorance of the matter at first, they later confirmed that a bilateral reconciliation agreement would be announced within two weeks – i.e. by mid-April.
We are now in early May and no agreement has been reached – Turkish-Israeli normalization of relations is still pending. What’s more, Gahed Toz, an advisor to Bülent Arınç, recently said that Turkey will not compromise on the three preconditions for reconciliation while it expressed Turkey’s opposition to Israel’s assaults against Palestinians.
With Turkey not willing to compromise on the three preconditions and Israel not ready to compromise on the issue of the Gaza embargo, the chances for reconciliation look bleak. However we should remember that Israel’s apology was an unlikely scenario in the first place. And given the populist way that Turkey handled the apology, namely, presenting Erdoğan as the one who made Israel bow to Turkey, the positive progress of the bilateral negotiations seemed rather unlikely as well. But despite the obstacles Turkey and Israel are gradually coming closer together.
The United States’ need to have a stable pro-Western alliance in the region, the growing common Syrian threat, the spread of extremism, Shiite and more generally Islamist militant groups, as well as growing domestic pressures by business circles in Turkey and Israel towards energy cooperation, are some of the most important factors that render the normalization of their relations imperative.
And although it seems that normalization will be the ultimate outcome, there are a few and significant issues that might either delay its coming or challenge its viability. On the one hand there is the way Erdoğan and Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) will take advantage of Israel’s possible concessions or the agreement in general for populist reasons and domestic consumption. On the other hand, Netanyahu and Israel will admittedly keep being rather suspicious of Turkey and its intentions while Israel’s commitment to a revived alliance must not be taken for granted in the long term, either for domestic or external reasons.
In that sense, regional developments with countries such as Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Cyprus may indeed affect in one degree or another Turkish-Israeli relations.