With Turkey's help, Israel can now be part of the solution

Published 28.06.2016 00:00

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that they had reached an agreement to normalize bilateral relations, ending a six-year diplomatic crisis over Israel's deadly assault on peaceful activists aboard the Mavi Marmara vessel in May 2010. Political bickering and spin doctors aside, the deal is neither a historic victory nor a crushing defeat for either side. It is a marriage of necessity.

First things first: Turkey and Israel reached an agreement on Sunday, but this does not mean they agree on everything. The two governments have fundamentally different viewpoints on the situation in Gaza and the Egyptian military coup among others. But they were compelled to seek a compromise due to the most recent developments in the Middle East. Six years ago, there was no Syrian civil war, DAESH or Iran deal. To make matters worse, we have little hope that things are about to take a positive turn. As regionwide chaos deepens, normalization between Turkey and Israel will serve not just their national interests but also regional peace and stability.

The agreement was received positively in Turkey. In addition to downgrading diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, Turkey had demanded an apology, compensation for the victims' families and an end to the Gaza embargo. Having offered an apology to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the remaining terms in a series of technical negotiations. At the end of the day, Turkish leaders can confidently tell the public that they accomplished their mission.

More importantly, it would appear that Turkish and Israeli negotiators found a way to make everyone happy. In a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the agreement. Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashal said he was proud of Turkey's commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians. In the Turkish media, the overall sense is that Turkey stood its ground and won big. Finally, Israel's political leaders came out in support of the agreement citing Tel Aviv's political, military and economic interests. They were pleased that the naval blockade will continue even though Turkey will take credit for circumventing the blockade without interruption.

Moving forward, closer cooperation between Turkey and Israel could mean Ankara's growing involvement in disputes between Tel Aviv and Hamas as an honest broker. At the same time, the two countries will presumably work together on a joint gas pipeline, which will help Israel's struggling economy and reduce Turkey's dependence on Russian natural gas.

Moving forward, the only apparent threat to closer cooperation between Turkey and Israel is Tel Aviv's unpredictability. In the past, the country has not proved a reliable partner in the Middle East. At a time when Turkey stepped in to broker talks between Syria and Israel, Tel Aviv launched Operation Cast Lead to kill more than 1,400 people including a large number of civilians. Again in May 2010, Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters to claim 10 lives and injure dozens more. The obvious concern, therefore, is that Israel will launch another violent attack against the Palestinian people or surrender to populism. For the time being, though, there is room for cautious optimism about the future. If Israel starts acting like a reckless teenager again, there will be no convincing the Turkish people.

As Daily Sabah, we welcome the Turkey-Israel agreement as a first step toward restoring regional peace and stability. Israel, however, must avoid unnecessary provocations and instead focus on developing a rational policy toward Turkey and the people of Palestine. Even though an agreement has been reached, the Turkish government has a moral obligation to safeguard and advocate the rights of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. As we break bread today, we must ignore the extremists on both sides to find an actual solution to pressing problems.

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