The Turkish-Israeli political relations gave its first signals of normalization after the flotilla crisis in the last few months when from both sides there were statements of a possible mending of ties after four years. The news reports written stated that the two countries almost reached an agreement on the compensation packages for the families of the victims of Mavi Marmara. The production and the distribution of natural gas discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean sea was considered a potential source of common interest for both countries in the future.
However despite these positive signs, it was also obvious that in the absence of a peace process in the region the normalization of relations will be constantly interrupted. In the history of Turkish-Israeli relations, the Palestinian Question played a critical role and regardless of the political leaning of the administrations in Turkish governments, reacted to the unproportional use of force in the region. In terms of its effect on Turkish politics, this question is handled almost like a domestic one and public opinion has always been very sensitive to the developments in the region.
Hence, when we look at the history of relations between the two countries, we see that the periods of improvement in the relations mostly overlap with the periods of calm and peace processes. For instance, the rapprochement of the 1990s started after the Madrid Peace Conference and was improved during the Oslo peace process. However despite the rapid improvement of relations, the relations went sour with the failure of Clinton's peace initiative and the start of the Second Intifada.
As it may be recalled, a coalition government and its leftist and secular Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit reacted extremely harshly against Israeli attacks during this period. Another period of the improvement of relations which allowed Turkey to attempt to broker an agreement between Syria and Israel ended with the Operation Cast Lead of Israel to Gaza. Since then the relations went all time low with the killing of 10 Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara attack by Israeli forces. The period of a potential normalization in political relations took place after the official apology from the Israeli government and negotiations in regards to the reparation packages. However the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza and increasing number of civilian casualties, will most likely, one more time, interrupt this process and delay any form of normalization in political relations in the near future.
This is a pattern of Turkish-Israeli political relations and it will be an inevitable pattern for the relations between Israel and other regional countries as public opinion starts playing a more significant role in determination of foreign policy. Despite some reverse waves of democratization in the region, the public opinion is now aware of its power and influence more than any other time in history. Each and every government in the region feels and will continue to feel the pressure from its people to do something to stop the bloodshed in Gaza and to react in one way or another to Israeli bombings on this small chunk of land during the holy month of Ramadan. Under these circumstances it would be extremely hard for the normalization of relations with Israel in this region. In fact, the continuation of these attacks will have far more significant long-term repercussions for the future of Israel's relations with its region in a period of popular uprisings, international mobilization and social media.
About the author
Kılıç Buğra Kanat is Research Director at SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C. He is an assistant professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie.