Analysis from Israel

Israel quite properly moved quickly to quash reports that in response to worsening ties with Turkey, it planned to start helping the PKK.  Jerusalem has tried for years to persuade the world there’s no such thing as a “good” terrorist  organization, and adopting a pet terrorist group of its own would completely destroy this argument. Moreover, Turkey would justifiably consider it an act of war, just as Israel does when other countries arm Hamas or Hezbollah, and the last thing Israel needs is for its cold war with Turkey to degenerate into a hot war.

But there’s no reason whatsoever for Israel not to launch a diplomatic campaign on behalf of the Kurds, focusing on both their justified demand for independence and Ankara’s gross human rights violations against Kurds in both Turkey and Iraq (where Turkey frequently bombs Kurdish areas). It should also start lobbying for international recognition of the Armenian genocide, and urge American Jewish organizations to do so as well.

For years, the alliance with Turkey confronted Israel with an uncomfortable choice between morality and realpolitik. It was always problematic for a country founded by survivors of history’s worst genocide to tacitly acquiesce in denying another people’s genocide, especially since the world’s indifference to the Armenian genocide is thought to have encouraged Hitler’s (correct) belief that he could massacre Jews with impunity. It was also problematic for a country founded on a stateless, persecuted people’s yearning for a home of their own to tacitly acquiesce in the suppression of another stateless, persecuted people’s identical yearning -especially after Israel began supporting the Palestinians’ demand for statehood, which is incomparably less justified than that of the Kurds. (Unlike Kurds, Palestinians are ethnically and linguistically indistinguishable from their Arab neighbors, and have suffered far less: For instance, they were never barred from using their own language, as Turkey’s Kurds were, and many fewer have been killed). One can question whether Jerusalem was right to have made these compromises, but successive governments all concluded that given Israel’s nasty neighborhood, the benefits of the Turkish alliance were too great to forgo.

Now, however, this alliance is dead, and it is unlikely ever to revive: Ankara’s state-sponsored anti-Semitism (see here, here, or here, for instance) is indoctrinating young Turks to loathe Israel,  while the Turkish opposition’s main gripe against the government’s Israel policy seems to be that it isn’t anti-Israel enough. After a UN inquiry largely exculpated Israel’s raid on last year’s flotilla to Gaza, for instance, the opposition lambasted the government for enabling such a “pro-Israeli” report and for not suspending all trade with Israel.

So, for the first time in decades, morality and realpolitik align rather than conflict: By doing what is right on the Kurdish and Armenian issues, not only would Israel not lose anything, but it would bolster its own deterrence by showing Turkey cannot wage diplomatic warfare against it with impunity. In short, it’s a win-win situation. All that’s needed is for Israel’s government to finally face the fact the Turkish alliance is history.

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One year later, the US embassy move has produced lasting gains

The first anniversary of the U.S. embassy’s move to Jerusalem sparked multiple articles in the Israeli press declaring it a failure for both U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From the left-wing Haaretz to the centrist Times of Israel, headlines trumpeted the fact that only one minor country, Guatemala, has followed America’s lead. And even that might prove fleeting, as several candidates in next month’s Guatemalan election have pledged to return the embassy to Tel Aviv.

All this is true, but it also misses the point. And it thereby obscures the real and lasting gains of the embassy move.

To understand why, it’s worth recalling America’s own history on this issue. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which ordered the embassy relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was approved by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the House (374-37) and the Senate (93-5). And in every subsequent election, every presidential candidate, whether Republican or Democratic, pledged to honor this directive.

Yet despite this consensus, it still took more than 20 years for the move to happen. Successive presidents, both Republican and Democratic, proved reluctant to defy international opposition. Consequently, they exercised a provision of the law allowing the move to be postponed due to national security considerations. These presidential waivers were renewed every six months for more than two decades.

In contrast, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was never been mooted as a possibility by any other country in the world. Outside America, not a single mainstream party, whether liberal or conservative, ever considered an embassy move, much less actively supported the idea.

Expecting other countries to go from having never even thought about moving their embassies to actually doing so in the space of just 12 months was always fatuous. Indeed, I warned a year ago that “Jerusalem isn’t going to be flooded with new embassies anytime soon.” If it took America more than two decades to move its embassy despite a bipartisan consensus that was codified in legislation, it will clearly take time for countries that have only just started considering the issue to reach the point of being ready to actually make the move.

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