Analysis by Yossi Lempkowicz, Senior Media Advisor Europe Israel Press Association
The recent electoral and personal political defeat suffered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might be a trigger for a normalization of relations between Turkey and Israel, analysts say.
Press reports revealed this week a secret meeting in Rome between the new Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, and his Turkish counterpart, Feridun Sinirlioglu, aimed at normalizing ties between the two countries, once close allies.
Both sides had first refused to confirm whether the meeting took place until Wednesday, when Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoglu admitted that talks have been conducted.
The minister told reporters in Ankara, “It’s quite normal for the two countries to talk for the normalization of the ties. How can reconciliation be achieved without holding any meetings?” He added, “These meetings are not new. Expert-level talks have been held between the two countries for a while.”
Experts on Israeli-Turkish ties said the results of the elections could influence ties favourably, but depend, among others things, on the next coalition government in Ankara. Erdogan’s Justice and Freedom Islamist-rooted party (AKP) lost its majority in parliament.
All of AKP’s potential partners – the nationalists, the Kurds and the Social Democrats – have criticized Erdogan’s hostile attitude toward Israel and the Jews, believing that given the regional circumstances, Turkey should have joined forces with Israel to stand against their mutual enemy – Iran.
Experts interviewed by the Israeli Ynet news website agree that Erdogan will have to balance his policy toward Israel and stop his rantings against the Jewish state in order to take into account his partners. This could be even more pronounced if the future Foreign Minister is a member of one of his future coalition partner or partners and not of AKP.
The elections gave the AKP 258 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the CHP 132, the MHP 81 and the Kurdish HDP 79.
Under Turkey’s proportional representation system, this means the AKP needs to form a coalition for the first time since coming to power in 2002.
Analysts see the nationalist MHP as the most likely coalition partner for the AKP in the new parliament.
Another potential partner is the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which easily surpassed the 10 percent barrier needed to send MPs to parliament.
The new coalition government is likely to be formed in about a month.
“Direction of talks between Turkey and Israel depend on the new government but there’s a good chance for normalization with Erdogan’s power declining sharply,” an expert on Turkey told EIPA.
A Kurdish participation in the coalition could also have a favourable effect on ties with Israel given the historically strong ties between the Kurds and Israel.
“If, at some point, an independent Kurdish state is established in northern Iraq, it’s safe to assume that it will forge diplomatic ties with Israel,” Alon Liel, an expert on Turkey said.
According to some analysts Erdogan may now be more concerned about his political survival than about fighting Israel – although this could have the opposite effect: as a result of his weakness, he could increase incitement against Israel in order to increase popular support for himself.
Former Israeli President Shimon Peres, speaking at the Annual Herzilya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center said “I am happy about what happened in Turkey – Erdogan wanted to turn Turkey into Iran, and there is no room for two Iran’s in the Middle East.”
The election, Peres said, was “a positive trend for Israel and the Middle East.”
In 2010, the previously warm relationship between Israel and Turkey deteriorated and diplomatic relations were ceded after the incident of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship which tried to break the security naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israeli commandos who boarded the ship were stabbed and thrown overboard. In the subsequent fight, eight Turks were killed.
The Israeli ambassador was expelled from Ankara in September 2011 after Israel refused to apologize for the deaths. Israel formally apologized in 2013 for what it called “operational mistakes” that might have led to the deaths of the victims. Turkey and Israel have been negotiating a compensation deal, but an agreement has not yet been forthcoming.