The Is­rael-Ha­mas ex­change deal as a pos­si­ble turn­ing point

Turkish Review - - FORUM - Alon Liel For­mer un­der­sec­re­tary for Is­rael’s Min­istry for For­eign Af­fairs

This was some­thing to watch: Tens of thou­sands of Is­raelis danc­ing in the streets for hours to cel­e­brate the re­turn of one Is­raeli pris­oner of war -- Gi­lad Shalit -- while hun­dreds of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans cheered in Gaza as they re­ceived hun­dreds of re­leased Pales­tinian pris­on­ers (out of a to­tal 1,027 re­leased as part of the agree­ment). This pris­oner ex­change deal met with con­sid­er­able support on both sides of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, prov­ing that even the on­go­ing bloody Is­rael-Ha­mas con­flict can man­u­fac­ture a win-win re­sult from time to time.

It was clearly not just a bi­lat­eral deal. In ad­di­tion to the two sides to the con­flict -- Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans (Ha­mas mostly in this case) -- Egypt was mas­sively in­volved as the lead­ing me­di­a­tor of the deal. Turkey was an im­por­tant go-be­tween in the at­tempted ex­change dur­ing 2007-8 and re­ceived, as part of the fi­nal deal, 11 deported pris­on­ers; Qatar and Syria ab­sorbed 29 of the other Pales­tini­ans de­por­tees; and France and Ger­many were im­por­tant play­ers in the on­go­ing diplo­matic ef­forts around the deal.

It was not only the num­ber of coun­tries in­volved that made it an im­por­tant re­gional and even in­ter­na­tional event. Huge me­dia in­ter­est around the world turned the pris­oner ex­change into a mega-event, as did the mas­sive pub­lic in­volve­ment on both sides of the deal.

It will be a ter­ri­ble diplo­matic, if not strate­gic, waste to stop here and for­get about what has been achieved. The deal could be­come a ve­hi­cle for change in the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and beyond. It has al­ready im­proved Is­rael’s re­la­tions with Egypt and could rep­re­sent a turn­ing point in its frozen re­la­tions with Ankara. It is this last di­men­sion that this piece fo­cuses upon.

The Turk­ish-Is­raeli link

A few months ago bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and Turkey suf­fered their sec­ond of­fi­cial down­grad­ing in six decades of diplo­matic ties, this time to sec­ond­sec­re­tary level. This is the low­est diplo­matic rank pos­si­ble, mak­ing this with­out doubt one of the worst pe­ri­ods in his­tory of re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

In Is­rael we keep ask­ing our­selves what we did wrong in our re­la­tions with Turkey dur­ing the last few years. The an­swer is usu­ally, “We did noth­ing wrong; it is the mas­sive in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal-cul­tural change inside Turkey of the last decade that trig­gered the change and brought about the hos­til­ity to­wards Is­rael.” Re­gard­ing the Mavi Mar­mara af­fair and its im­pli­ca­tions, the atti-

PHOTO: REUTERS

Is­rael’s Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres (L) sits next to freed Is­raeli sol­dier Gi­lad Shalit.

(Oct. 24, 2011)

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