By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Turkey’s enthusiastic response to Israel’s apology over the Mavi Marmara incident some three years ago was swift and remarkably enthusiastic. Israel is likely to be less pleased, but apparently Prime Minister Netanyahu realized that President Obama deserved a parting gift, and so he made the call to Prime Minister Erdogan.
Israel has good reason to bite its lip over the apology, because it has given not only Turkey but also Hamas & Co. an opportunity to gloat. Also, Israel will have to financially compensate the families of the Turks who were killed when IDF forces boarded the ship that came to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. And Israel may have to discipline some of the officers involved; the Turks seem to know who they are.
Yet the apology is very good for Israel. Israel and Turkey need each other to protect themselves from the upheavals caused by the Arab Awakening. The two countries, in addition to having common enemies in the Muslim world, have common interests. We’re told that even during the last few frosty years, defense and economic cooperation had been intensive. In the open it’ll no doubt become stronger.
Both Israel and Turkey are the allies of the United States. That’s why Obama must have been keen to bring about the reconciliation. Anything that strengthens the bonds between the three countries is no less good for Israel than it is for the others.
From my uninformed amateur vantage point I can see further benefits. For example, by making that phone call to his Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Netanyahu freed himself from the hard-line of his coalition partner, not-yet/perhaps never-again foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who in his characteristic Putinesque style has said that he’s opposed to the apology. The Leader of the Opposition welcomed it.
More important, Israel needs to reach some kind of understanding with Hamas in Gaza – not because Israel is at fault, but because its citizens in the south must be protected from rocket attacks. Neither retaliation nor the Iron Dome seems to be enough, but Turkey as the go-between could be the answer.
Hamas and Turkey will be interested to see if Israel will ease its stranglehold over Gaza without compromising its own security. Instead of seeking more effective and less lethal ways of keeping the blockade, it may be possible to soften it and thus avoid future casualties and crises. This could make life very much easier both for Israelis and Gazans.
US Secretary of State is staying around in the region. Dare we hope that he’ll be able to negotiate other measures to improve the climate and the discourse? Obama is said to have got an undertaking from Abu Mazen that the Palestinians will delay their move to take Israel to the International Criminal Court in the hope that Israel will refrain from settlement expansion in the most sensitive areas. Israel’s commitment to curtail, if not stop, building in the settlements would be a great step forward on several fronts.
Perhaps in the same way as Netanyahu could disregard the objections of his close ally Lieberman, he’ll be able to disregard the objections of his close adversary Bennett who is said to be committed to unrestricted settlement expansion.
President Obama used the term dayenu in one of his speeches. Even if his visit brings about only a few seemingly small but promising steps – dayenu.