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
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.