It's rather irritating to hear Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announce that "we can do without the Israeli tourists." True, we have heard harsher statements on his part. Still, the Turkish Prime Minister is boasting that, even without the Israelis, Turkey has managed to attract this year no less than 31 million tourists. For all that he cares, the Israelis can look for low-cost vacation deals elsewhere — they are not going to get the same lavish "all inclusive" Turkish hospitality anywhere else.
I asked Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish intellectual [and writer] with an original Islamist outlook, who was losing more, in his opinion, from the cold war between Ankara and Jerusalem. According to Akyol, who did not think twice before coming from Istanbul to Jerusalem to take part in the [fourth] Israeli Presidential Conference 'Facing Tomorrow 2012' [held June 19 to 21], said Israel is the big loser, and it should look for an opportunity to restore its relations with Turkey. Now that Erdoğan is engaged in a confrontation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is too busy to carry on his attacks against you, Akyol says, now is the time to put an end to the matter once and for all and resolve the conflict.
It seems, however, that not everybody in Israel agrees with him. There are those who believe that Israel can take its time and wait for some miracle to happen, either Erdoğan will be thrown out of office (no chance for that in the foreseeable future; for the time being, his popularity is on the rise) or the dynamics of the events will force him to bend and compromise. On the agenda there is the list of terms posed by Erdoğan as a precondition for reconciliation with Israel: First, an official apology by the Israeli government for the death of the nine Turkish activists killed aboard the MV Mavi Marmara [in the course of the IDF raid on the Turkish ship on May 31, 2010]; second, payment of adequate reparations to the families of the nine victims; and third, a term that, according to the Turkish sources I have been in touch with, may be skipped, Israeli commitment to lift the blockade on Gaza.
As a matter of fact, Erdoğan introduced the requirement regarding the Gaza blockade only after Israel had put the freeze on the statement of apology formulated by an Israeli mediator and his Turkish counterpart. [Israeli former senior security official] Yossi Ciechanover and Yashar Yakish [Former Turkish foreign Minister] jointly drafted the statement. Jerusalem gave it the green light, but then, so they claim on the Turkish side, the apology was torpedoed [about a year ago] by Minister [Moshe "Bogie"] Ya'alon [Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs (Likud)].
In Ankara, too, they have studied the report by the inquiry commission on the Marmara [issued last month by the Israeli state comptroller]. The conclusions of the Israeli inquiry will obviously not soften Erdoğan. In any event, he is too busy at the moment with Assad, and he will most probably not attend to any other matter until he sees the palace in Damascus evacuated, whether through diplomacy or by force, before the violence and terror seep into Turkey. And it's in this state of affairs that Israel may have its chance to find a way out of the mess. To that end, the two mediators should resume their talks or another team appointed to negotiate a reconciliation formula. It's about time we stop bothering with petty accountancy and troubling ourselves with questions of no consequence such as 'is it worth our while' and 'how are we going to look'. It was an ugly affair. Both sides have emerged badly tarnished. Each side is sure that he is right. It's time we put it all behind us and move on.
There are those who, looking ahead, caution us that we will never be able to revive our honeymoon with Ankara. They are right. On the other hand, the crisis has already cost us hundreds of millions of dollars. They also warn us that, once Erdoğan receives our apology, he will look for another pretext to fan the flames and stir up another dispute. Well, here they may be wrong. What needs to be done is to formulate an agreement that would anchor the relations between the two countries in the post-apology era. After all, we have a long list of shared interests with Turkey. Its regional standing has strengthened following the revolutions in the Arab world, and it has no need any more for our lobbying on its behalf in Washington. It's true that the trade between Israel and Turkey is carried on as usual and exports have even increased. However, the security cooperation between the two countries, the joint maneuvers with Israel Air Force (IAF) and the [defense] purchase deals have all been put under deep freeze.
As in married life after a big tiff: if the two sides really want to make up, they will find the way. Not everything is lost in Turkey and, for the time being, neither Erdoğan nor Netanyahu is going anywhere. No one is going to move Turkey's borders with Syria, Iraq or Iran. And in this context, it would be a pity to give up the [shared] Intelligence updates, the potential for mutual realignment vis-à-vis the new regime in Egypt, Hamas and the problems cropping up in Jordan. After all, in Jerusalem and Ankara, they see the same picture.
Now is the right time, away from the cameras, to appoint discreet envoys who would talk until 'white smoke comes out'.