Turkey striking a delicate balance between Palestine and Israel

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SINEM CENGIZ

August 26, 2022

Turkey striking a delicate balance between Palestine and Israel

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In recent months Turkey has managed to strike a balance between several conflicting actors, such as Russia and Ukraine, Iran and the US, and lately Israel and Palestine. Ankara’s domestic and regional interests necessitate finding a harmony between these forces.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Ankara last week was significant because it came a few days after Turkey and Israel said they would restore full diplomatic relations and reappoint ambassadors for the first time since 2018. During Abbas’s visit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said there was no change in Ankara’s stance on the Palestine issue, and it continued to support the two-state solution to end the conflict. Ankara also said Turkey’s reconciliation steps with Israel would in no way diminish its support for the cause of the Palestinians, adding that Palestinian authorities, including different political factions, welcomed the normalization and wanted the dialogue to continue. Abbas made no comment on Turkey-Israel normalization, but thanked Ankara for its “unwavering” support to the Palestinians.

Turkey’s normalization with Israel was an expected development after a diplomatic marathon behind the scenes in the past two years, bearing its first fruit with Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara in March, followed by reciprocal visits by both foreign ministers. Turkish-Israeli rapprochement coincided with many regional and international developments including the Ukrainian war, the Iran nuclear deal and the imminent energy crisis in Europe, all of which concern both countries.

In the early 2000s, Turkey initiated the Ankara Forum as a confidence-building mechanism between Palestine and Israel. Turkish, Israeli and Palestinian presidents Abdullah Gül, Shimon Peres and Abbas signed an agreement on building a joint industrial zone in the West Bank within the framework of the “industry for peace” approach. At that time, Abbas described the forum as a “significant opportunity” for establishing peace in the region, adding that security and stability in the Middle East could be obtained if the Palestinians and Israelis ensured peace. Peres attached great importance to the agreement, which he said would “yield important results for the region and contribute to the peace process.”

At the end of the day, for Ankara, it is important to keep good economic, commercial and military relationships with Israel while maintaining historic, cultural and religious ties with the Palestinians.

Sinem Cengiz

It may be naive to expect Turkey to play such a role today, given the lack of trust on both Turkish and Israeli sides. However, even if Turkish-Israeli ties are not back to their halcyon days, mutual interests on several fronts can keep relations on track at the highest level.

Both sides have considered this normalization pragmatic and rational, with potential political, economic and security gains. Israel thinks that having good ties with a non-Arab country in the region will serve its security interests. Turkey believes that good ties with Israel may improve its relations with the US. On the regional level, they share mutual concerns, especially regarding Syria where dynamics are shifting rapidly. However, the most important driving force in the normalization is the economic aspect: the issue of natural gas. Turkey is an important route for Israeli gas to reach Europe. Also, Israeli support for Turkey’s eastern Mediterranean policy would be vital for Ankara.

On the other hand, some issues may test this normalization. First, any military deterioration between Palestinian and Israeli sides may lead Ankara to take a harsh stance toward Tel Aviv, which we have seen in the past on several occasions. Second, Israeli elections in November and in Turkey in June 2023 may provide a litmus test in relations. In the past, politicians in both countries have used aggressive rhetoric toward each other to secure domestic electoral gains. If they give a higher priority to domestic matters, rather than foreign relations, this may pose a serious challenge to Turkish-Israeli relations. Also, the outcome of the elections is critical, since it may bring some old names such as Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, or new names in Turkey, who may wish to follow a different track in bilateral relations.

Abbas’s visit was therefore significant, sending a clear message not only to the regional countries that have started to normalize relations with Israel, but also to the Turkish government’s electoral base. For several years, the government’s support of the Palestinian cause has been a vote winner, so in the run-up to elections the government will avoid giving the Palestinian cause a low profile. Unless serious tension erupts between Israelis and Palestinians, Ankara will try to strike a delicate balance between both sides. At the end of the day, for Ankara, it is important to keep good economic, commercial and military relationships with Israel while maintaining historic, cultural and religious ties with the Palestinians. Ankara’s balanced relations with both sides — a tough task — can be a significant tool for Turkey’s exercise of both domestic and external power.

  • Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view

source https://www.arabnews.com/node/2150996

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