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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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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