Analysis from Israel
Ankara’s response to the Palmer Report disabuses the notion that the Israeli-Turkish relationship is still salvageable. Israel should be leveraging Turkey’s rejection of the report to prove to the world that its erstwhile ally is no longer a force for regional stability.
For Israelis, the findings of the UN inquiry into last year’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza contained little news; the Palmer Report largely echoed the conclusions of Israel’s own Turkel Committee probe: The naval blockade of Gaza was legal; Turkey should have done more to stop the flotilla; Israeli soldiers were brutally attacked by flotilla “activists” and had to use force in self-defense; the interception’s poor planning and execution led to unnecessary deaths. But the reactions from both Ankara and Washington have been highly instructive.

First, if anyone still harbored the illusion that the Israeli-Turkish relationship was salvageable, Ankara’s response to the report ought to disabuse them of this notion. What Turkey’s response makes clear is that Ankara never had the slightest interest in repairing its relationship with Jerusalem; what it wanted was to further blacken Israel’s international image, undermine Israel’s vital security interests and humiliate Israel by forcing it to come crawling. And given the UN’s anti-Israel record, Ankara understandably counted on the Palmer Report to do all three: blacken Israel’s image by finding it criminally culpable in the flotilla deaths; undermine its security interests by ruling the Gaza blockade illegal, thereby pressuring Israel to end it; and demand that Israel apologize to Turkey for the incident.

But when the report failed to do any of the above, Turkey flatly refused to accept its conclusions. Instead, it announced that it will pursue all the above goals by other means: It will try to secure indictments against Israeli officers and politicians in any court willing to take the case; it will appeal the Gaza blockade to a different UN forum, the International Court of Justice, which – given the precedent of the ICJ’s ruling on the security fence – would likely accept Turkey’s contention regarding its illegality; it will offer future flotillas to Gaza a Turkish naval escort, on the theory that Israel would have to let these flotillas through rather than risk war with Turkey, thereby effectively ending the blockade; and it will rescind these and other hostile measures only if Israel renders them unnecessary by surrendering unconditionally – i.e., by admitting culpability for the deaths, apologizing and ending the blockade.In so doing, Turkey has made its position too clear for even the rosiest of rose-tinted glasses to disguise: It has irrevocably joined the >anti-Israel camp, and seeks only to undermine Israel in any way

possible.

But the Obama Administration’s reaction has been no less instructive. Start with the fact that US President Barack Obama worked a miracle I would have sworn was impossible: creating a UN-sponsored inquiry on Israel that produced reasonably fair and balanced conclusions. Add in the fact that Obama has been struggling to convince American Jews of his pro-Israel bona fides, and this would seem to be a golden opportunity to trumpet a pro-Israel achievement. All he would have to do is back the committee he himself established and demand that Turkey accept its conclusions (as Israel has) instead of escalating the conflict via its threatened legal and military moves. Instead, the administration is still demanding that Israel apologize to Turkey, even though the Palmer Report pointedly avoided demanding any such thing: It said merely that Israel should express regret and offer compensation to the bereaved families – both steps Israel has repeatedly offered to take, but that Turkey rejected as insufficient, insisting nothing less than an apology (i.e., an admission of culpability) would do.

Moreover, Washington has yet to utter a word of criticism of Ankara over its refusal to accept the report’s conclusions and its crude anti-Israel threats. Even Germany’s normally anti-Israel foreign minister – who himself deemed the Gaza blockade “unacceptable” less than a year ago – managed to say that Turkey should take the report’s conclusions “seriously” and avoid “aggravating the situation.” Yet the Obama administration has been silent.

The inescapable conclusion is that Obama’s goal in establishing the Palmer Commission was in fact identical to Turkey’s: He wanted a report that would incriminate Israel and thereby pressure it to capitulate to Turkey’s demands. And since, under heavy pressure from Obama, Israel agreed to cooperate with the commission – in contrast to its usual practice of boycotting UN inquiries because the UN is hopelessly biased against it – the administration would have had strong grounds for demanding that Israel accept the report’s conclusions even had they been unfavorable.

Yet since Turkey also cooperated, the administration has equally strong grounds for demanding that it accept the report’s conclusions. The thunderous silence Washington has maintained instead speaks louder than words: This wasn’t the outcome we wanted, and now we don’t quite know what to do to achieve the desired Israeli capitulation beyond continuing our behind-the-scenes pressure for an Israeli apology.

I’ve argued elsewhere that apologizing to Turkey would undermine Israel’s interests twice over, given that Turkey under the Islamist AKP party has clearly made a strategic choice to end the alliance. Fortunately, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to understand that an apology would be counterproductive. But he’s still reiterating the tired mantra that Israel wants to “improve relations with Turkey.”

Instead, Israel should be leveraging the Palmer Report – and Turkey’s rejection of it – to prove to the world that Turkey under the AKP is no longer force for regional stability; it has become a fomenter of conflict, and must be treated as such. Granted, it would be helpful to have Washington’s backing in this endeavor, but as the Obama administration’s response to the report makes clear, that won’t happen: In this spat (as in most others), Obama is backing Israel’s enemy.

Nevertheless, Israel must do its best to press this point on its own. The Palmer Report is a golden opportunity to force the world to face up to the reality that Turkey has changed. Jerusalem must not waste it by continuing the empty pretense that Ankara is still the valued ally of yesteryear

The writer is a journalist and commentator.

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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