Israel and Turkey have made significant strides in pursuing reconciliation over the past month. Last week, the two countries finally agreed to pursue a normalization of their diplomatic relations, ending a three-year freeze that had been in place since the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010.
The normalization comes after the first meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the meeting, Netanyahu expressed regret and apologized for operational mistakes during the flotilla raid that resulted in nine deaths, including eight Turkish nationals and one American. Netanyahu’s humble words gave Erdogan reason to communicate with him further and opened the door for last week’s normalization announcement. Erdogan demanded Netanyahu’s apology as a precondition to any further diplomatic negotiations between the two nations, and Netanyahu agreed to meet him in the middle for what was a seemingly reasonable demand, though he previously asserted he wouldn’t apologize. Netanyahu’s about-face in this instance was extremely beneficial.
Previously, Erdogan had announced that Israel’s apology for the flotilla raid was enough on its own to normalize diplomatic relations. However, he has since added additional demands as preconditions to further normalization. One issue is restitution payments to the families of the flotilla incident’s victims. Israel has offered to compensate each family with payments of $100,000 each — $30,000 more than Turkey pays its military families who lose loved ones. Turkey, however, is demanding $1 million per family in restitution payments.
The countries must now negotiate to reach a resolution on this issue, and it’d be beneficial for Turkey to reevaluate their initial demand. In the spirit of cooperation and reconciliation that Netanyahu displayed with his apology, Erdogan should willingly negotiate a fair amount for the restitution payments, rather than demanding $1 million per family as a deal-breaker for further normalization.
Also at issue is Israel’s legal naval blockade of Gaza. Israel’s navy currently blockades Gaza’s main port as a security measure. The Israeli navy inspects incoming ships to ensure that no weapons or missiles are brought into Gaza. Hamas often attempts to smuggle rocket-building materials into Gaza, and the blockade serves to stifle that effort. They allow ships bringing food and other supplies to continue en route to Gaza. Erdogan has announced that he expects Israel to lift this naval blockade before further normalization between Israel and Turkey.
But not only is the naval blockade completely unrelated to Turkish sovereignty, it’s a matter of Israeli national security and exists only to limit violence stemming from Hamas in Gaza. No country should ever have to compromise on a matter of internal national security in order to engage in diplomatic relations with another nation. It’s akin to demanding that one’s neighbors remove their picket fence before agreeing to be friendly with them. Erdogan should be focused on issues that involve Israel and Turkey, rather than using the pursuit of normalization as a bargaining chip for unrelated issues. Such deviations from regular negotiations make it difficult for Israel and Turkey to work together.
Normalization between Israel and Turkey can have numerous benefits. Together, they can help resolve Syria’s civil war and end the bloodshed there. Additionally, Turkey is a natural recipient of Israel’s natural gas exports, given its geographic proximity. Turkey needs the energy such imports provide, and Israel is in need of a trading partner for its gas. These benefits will stand out among others should Israel and Turkey find a way to repair their relationship. The logical next step in the process is for Turkey to follow the example Israel has already set during this reconciliation process by making concessions and negotiating in good faith.
Max Heller is a Business senior.