Are relations between Israel and Turkey thawing?

At the conclusion of a busy month, one that included a policy dialogue between Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies and the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT) in Washington D.C., I have been busily working on a piece that reflected my thoughts on the state of Israel-Turkey relations. Taking a break to enjoy some spring air, I walked outside only to be interrupted by the following tweet:

I rushed back to my computer in order to hear what Turkey’s outspoken Deputy Prime Minister had to say for himself.

Not much, apparently.

Asked a series of questions by Israeli Channel 2 diplomatic correspondent Arad Nir, who penned this Al-Monitor piece earlier in the week, relating to Turkey’s position vis-a-vis Israel, the rhetoric of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and anti-Semitism, Arınç never strayed far from the script (these are my translations from the imperfect Hebrew captions – maybe someone out there would like to double check with the Turkish).

On Anti-Semitism in Turkey:

“Not one of us [in the ruling Justice and Development Party] holds anti-Semitic beliefs. Anti-Semitism has never found fertile ground in Turkey and we pride ourselves on this…The Turkish people, as a whole, are not hostile to the Jews. However, it may overreact to steps taken by the State of Israel. In these instances we always find ourselves on the correct side.”

On whether Erdoğan’s statements against Israel “go a step too far”:

“Regarding the private opinions of our honorable President, these are private views and we will leave it at that.”

On Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection:

Arınç didn’t congratulate Netanyahu, although Nir did test the waters, but he reiterated that Turkey does not take sides in the domestic politics of other countries (a debatable point if you follow Turkish foreign policy).

“I want very much to hope. First, for a lasting peace, or that earnest negotiations towards peace will begin. Second, on the Palestinian issue, the issue of Gaza and the Middle East. We hope for a comprehensive solution, and that Netanyahu will think more positively, that he will make more constructive declarations indicating similar intentions.”

Nir then asked whether Turkey had any expectations from Netanyahu.

“We hope and expect that he will unequivocally declare his government’s intention to seek an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And if Netanyahu also turns a new leaf regarding confidence building measures between Israel and Turkey. If he makes a real gesture towards us and declares his true interest in peace (just to reiterate, if he lifts the siege imposed on the Palestinians and on Gaza, and if he reaches peace in the Middle East which, without any doubt, results in Israel’s security situation improving,) then at this point Turkey will be ready to see Israel as an equal partner.”

I applaud Nir for being persistent enough that finally a Turkish official agreed to meet with him. It has been six years, since the infamous Gaza flotilla affair, that a Turkish politician has been interviewed by an Israeli journalist. (Nir interviewed former Turkish Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış in May 2014, under the facilitation of Mitvim.) As recently as February Turkish officials have refused to sit at international meetings and events alongside their Israeli peers. And even though this silence wasn’t broken by any earth-shattering statements, what took place carries more value than what was said. Like the coming of spring, the thaw between Israel and Turkey should be measured by slow, deliberate steps.

Today’s interview of Arınç might be one of them.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel, Turkey