|Benjamin Netanyahu’s unwilligness to apologise to Turkey has damaged Israel’s relationship with Turkey [EPA]|
Can it be? Did the Turks really dare to say “No” to Bibi Netanyahu, threaten to break ties with Israel, and say it so directly and strongly?
Bibi Netanyahu defiantly refused to apologise to Turkey for Israeli commando forces’ May 31, 2010 raid that killed nine civilians (eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent) and wounded several dozens, mostly Turkish citizens. The Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara – a flotilla of peace activists, aid workers, writers, journalists, lawyers, members of parliaments and ordinary citizens – was bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza in an attempt to break Israel’s two-year blockade and siege of the Gaza Strip, which they believed was a necessary step to restart the peace process in the Middle East.
Bibi not only said no to the Turkish government’s demand for a formal apology, but no to the US as well. It was not a secret that both US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had strongly encouraged the Israeli government to apologise. Instead Netanyahu retreated to a mantra he has used throughout his years as prime minister: “We need not apologise.”
But should anyone have been surprised? One can understand the Netanyahu government’s intransigence and defiance: This is perfectly reasonable given the lack of resistance from the US and the international community, who consistently avoid dealing firmly, critically and decisively with Israel. Bibi is clearly not used to being diplomatically rebuffed and held accountable. Rather, he has a track record of defying international law, and of not being held accountable for the use of excessive force, violence, punishment and repression. Witness the Israeli invasions of Gaza and Lebanon, the creation of an apartheid state, and the blockade of the democratically elected Hamas government in Gaza – aided by his US and EU partners. As in Gaza and Lebanon, so too in response to the attack on the flotilla. Even though an American citizen was among those murdered, the US silence was deafening.
Was Israel’s use of force justified?
Despite the United Nations report’s recognition of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza as legal and appropriate, it noted that the flotilla posed no immediate threat and emphasised that the decision to board and use force was excessive and unreasonable, and that Israel had failed to provide an adequate explanation or details for the killing of the nine activists. Indeed, it concluded: “No evidence has been provided to establish that any of the deceased were armed with lethal weapons.” That said, Israel was advised to issue a statement of regret and “make payment for the benefit of the deceased and injured victims and their families”.
Need for a new narrative
As Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and downgrading of its ties with Israel signals, Israel’s defiance of both friend and foe alike will have implications in the new Middle East. The Netanyahu government totally misreads and ignores the Arab Spring with its demand for respect, dignity and freedom. Many of the authoritarian allies that the West and Israel could count on are gone, or going.
The new Middle East, like the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, requires a new narrative, and with it a redefining of relationships as partnerships. Turkey has become a major player in the Middle East, and a respected ally of the US and many EU countries. The loss of Turkey as a friend will further isolate Israel in the region and the international community. Israel’s continued occupation and blockade policies further demonstrate Netanyahu’s lack of leadership, and his lack of vision or desire to make peace with Palestinians and establish productive relations with new emerging Arab governments.
Israel’s fallout with Turkey, the repercussions of which are being felt across the Middle East and the Muslim world, comes just weeks before a scheduled UN Security Council vote to recognise a Palestine as a new member state. Despite Israel’s intransigence in US-led Middle East negotiations and Bibi’s arrogant personal style in dealing with Barack Obama, the US administration has made it clear that it will (yet again) veto any request presented to the United Nations and has lobbied its EU allies to also do so. However, the US, EU and Israel will not be able to block a UN General Assembly vote to elevate the status of the Palestinians’ from nonvoting observer “entity” to that of a nonvoting observer “state”. Such a vote will even more clearly symbolise Israel’s marginalisation in the community of nations, and will further undermine the US’ role as an honest broker in the Middle East peace process.
John Esposito is a Professor of Reglion (Islamic Studies) and Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown. He is the author of several books, including Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives (2006, Oxford University Press) and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (2002, Oxford University Press).
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.