x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Palestinians will benefit if Turkey pushes Israel

Despite all their differences, Turkey and Israel need to be able to cooperate, especially on Syria.

US president Barack Obama arrived home from the Middle East last month basking in the news that Israel had apologised to Turkey for the deadly MV Mavi Marmara raid of 2010, which had poisoned bilateral relations.

Palestinians, meanwhile, held out hope that Israel's long blockade on Gaza would be loosened as a result. The prospect of reduced tensions between Turkey and Israel has implications for regional stability, providing Turkey with increased leverage to push Israel to loosen its grip on Arabs in the Levant.

Hopes of an immediate shift in Israel's squeeze on Gaza have since been dashed, but prospects for a breakthrough have not vanished. Turkey has reminded the region yet again that words from Israel will not be enough to heal the many years of pain Palestinians have endured.

This week, as John Kerry, the US secretary of state, arrived in Turkey, Istanbul put Gazans ahead of their own national interests. Mr Kerry, visiting Istanbul en route to Jerusalem, urged the two countries to move quickly towards better ties. But his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu promised only "careful" progress towards full restoration of relations, sticking to the Gaza precondition: "All of the embargoes should be eliminated once and for all."

And yesterday Turkey delayed the opening of talks on compensation for the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara, and for those injured when Israeli soldiers raided the ship, part of a flotilla aimed at peacefully breaking the embargo on Gaza. Talks on compensation were agreed upon the phone call from Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey pushed the talks back to "April 21 or 22"; officially because the top Turkish negotiator is travelling with Mr Erdogan to Kyrgyzstan this week. But it seems reasonable to assume the delay is aimed at forcing Israel's hand.

Will Turkey's line hasten the end to the blockade, its avowed purpose?

To be sure, Israel's arbitrary and punitive controls on shipments of construction materials, some foods and other goods are an injustice that shames Israel and infuriates Palestinians. But who can imagine Israel allowing free access to Gaza for military ordnance?

It may be that the Turks hope that their coolness will propel Mr Kerry to push Mr Netanyahu to ease the blockade. If so they have an optimistic opinion of Mr Netanyahu's pliability.

Either way, Turkey and Israel need to reduce tensions in a bid to improve regional security, especially in Syria. And if Israel is able to recognise that it is in its interest to forge stronger ties to Turkey, then it is Gazans, paradoxically, who could benefit the most.