This week saw two historic diplomatic initiatives that will improve Turkey's ties with both Israel and Russia and time will show that both deals will prove to have a positive effect on the region
Turkey took two important steps this week to normalize relations with Israel and Russia. This major development will have significant consequences for Turkey's foreign policy and regional peace and stability. It has the potential to help with the two protracted problems of Palestine and Syria as well as the fight against DAESH and PKK terrorism.
After a lengthy process of negotiations extending over a period of almost six years, Turkish and Israeli officials signed an agreement to normalize relations between Turkey and Israel on June 29, 2016. For Turkey, the agreement fulfills its second and third conditions, i.e., compensation for the families of those who were killed during the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara ship and the easing of the blockade on Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already apologized to Turkey back in 2013 in a phone call with then prime minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and in the presence of U.S. President Barack Obama.
The normalization agreement opens a new chapter in two important areas that have huge geo-political significance: Turkish-Israeli relations and the situation in Gaza. The two sides have agreed to start the process of sending ambassadors and restart economic and touristic relations. So, we will witness some new activity in bilateral relations.
But equally important is the potentially new situation in Gaza whereby this agreement will allow Turkey to send humanitarian and civilian aid (meaning food, medical supplies, et cetera). As a matter of fact, the first aid ship is already on its way to the Ashdod Port to be delivered to the people of Gaza on Eid al-Fitr on behalf of the Turkish people.
In addition, Turkey sees a major opportunity and has the assurances of the Israeli side as part of the agreement to improve the living conditions in Gaza. This will start by increasing the amount of electricity and water given to the people of Gaza daily. Lack of electricity and water has been a major problem in the Gaza strip affecting everything from health to agriculture. A team of technical experts will travel to Gaza to study the existing infrastructure of water and electricity and the work will begin shortly. Turkey will also finish its ongoing projects including Gaza Hospital and social housing for those whose houses were destroyed in the last attack on Gaza.
It is hoped that the people of Gaza will see the palpable results of the new Turkish-Israeli agreement in their daily lives. Turkey is ready to do this and Israeli officials see the significance of this. On the political side, Turkey will continue to support the rights of the Palestinian people to have an independent state and end the occupation, which has been the single most devastating source of war, conflict and suffering. Turkey will continue to have relations with all Palestinian groups and help all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. By normalizing relations with Israel, Turkey will also have a higher chance to contribute to the peace process and prevent unnecessary tensions and loss of life. This holds true for the highly critical and sensitive situation in and around Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.
The second major news of this week was the process of normalization with Russia. It came as a surprise to many but the work had been underway for several months to overcome the crisis since the downing of the Russian plane in November 2015. An effective backdoor diplomacy worked and President Erdoğan sent a letter to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin expressing his regret and sorrow over the killing of the Russian pilot. Both leaders took a brave step to normalize relations between the two key countries in the region.
After the Russian plane was shot down, Turkey took a constructive and reconciliatory approach. Now this has been reciprocated by President Putin's swift move to lift all economic and tourism sanctions against Turkey - good news that is being celebrated by business communities and ordinary citizens on both sides.
Besides economics, though, the key outcome of the new chapter in Turkish-Russian relations will be about the future of the Syrian war and the fight against terrorism. In their phone conversation on June 29, presidents Erdoğan and Putin agreed to work on both issues and instructed their teams to follow up. This is an important development and will have major consequences for the worsening situation in Syria where the cease-fire is not holding and the regime refuses to talk about the political transition - the two key elements of the U.N.-led Vienna and Geneva processes. Turkey's position on the Syrian war and the future of Bashar Assad is well-known. A renewed effort between Turkey and Russia will have the potential to contain the situation in Syria. This will also help Turkey fight more effectively against DAESH terrorism coming from the Syrian lands.
It is not a coincidence that the terrorist attack on Istanbul Atatürk International Airport came a day after agreements with Israel and Russia were announced. DAESH is certainly against both agreements and sees Turkey as a strategic target. Turkey will continue to take firm measures against this terrorist organization and coordinate its efforts with the U.S. and now Russia.
Turkey's move to normalize relations with Israel and Russia is timely and based on principles of mutual interest and respect, regional cooperation, peace and security. Given the traumatic situation in the Middle East and around the world, this breather was certainly needed to address a number of urgent and pressing issues.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey