A small milestone today for The World is Not Enough: this is our one hundredth post. Thanks to everyone for reading.
Expectations were low for Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, and they seemed to have been pretty much delivered. He made a stirring and apparently well-received speech to an audience of Israeli university students, but there were no new concessions from the government of Benjamin Netanyahu on peace with the Palestinians, and no indication from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that he would be willing to resume negotiations without such concessions.
But then on Friday, after Obama was already on his way to Jordan, came a breakthrough. The Israeli government ended its feud with Turkey by apologising for “mistakes” in the 2010 raid on an aid convoy to Gaza and promising to pay compensation for the nine Turkish nationals killed on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.
Until this week, Israel had doggedly maintained that its response to the aid convoy was justified, while the rest of the world considered it at best a badly-handled over-reaction and at worst a simple act of piracy. Although not the only factor, it was the primary cause of the rupture in the once-close relationship between Israel and Turkey.
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Now they’re friends again. Al-Jazeera’s correspondent reports that Turkey got “almost everything it wanted” from Israel. Taking credit for the switch, Obama said “they don’t have to agree on everything in order for them to come together around a whole range of common interests and common concerns.” High on that list of common concerns is the continuing carnage in Syria, which threatens both Israel and Turkey in different but not entirely dissimilar ways.
Whether the formerly close co-operation between the two countries will actually be resumed remains to be seen, but it’s a start. As the BBC put it, the apology is “a clear indication of the diplomatic clout that the US still wields with its two key allies in a turbulent region.”
Will any of this help the Palestinians or the justly-derided “peace process”? Probably not directly, although apparently part of the conversation between Netanyahu and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan was the claim that Israel had “substantially” lifted its blockade of civilian goods into Gaza.
Indeed, out of the available options to try to mend fences with Obama, Netanyahu may well have picked the one least likely to impact on his core foreign policy interest, namely maintaining Israeli control over the occupied territories.
Nonetheless, the admission that not everything Israel does in keeping the Palestinians down can be justified is a significant step forward. And if Netanyahu gets into the habit of listening to Erdogan he may learn a few home truths that, if heeded, will ultimately work to Israel’s benefit.