RAMALLAH – Turkey’s cooling relationship with Israel comes in tandem with its improving relations with the Arab and Muslim world, and this development is expected to impact positively on Palestinian politics.
"The Turks appear to be implementing a major policy shift in the region as they look towards the East as a possible alternative to relations with the West, particularly in light of difficulties joining the European Union (EU)," says Dr. Samir Awad from Birzeit University near Ramallah.
"Turkey’s increasingly strained relations with Israel and its growing sympathy for the Palestinian cause may well have a strong influence on the Europeans, the Americans and the Arab countries," Awad told IPS.
"Turkey, a secular Muslim country has strong ties with the Muslim and Arab world. At the same time it has strong relations with the U.S., which considers it a regional and strategic ally. It is also somewhat respected by the West for being secular and having a democracy, albeit a flawed one."
Turkish-Israeli relations plummeted when Turkey excluded Israel from a joint military drill that was to be held with other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This caused consternation in Israeli diplomatic and government circles, which consider Turkey Israel’s strongest Muslim ally in the region.
To make things worse for the Israelis, Syria announced Tuesday that it would hold an even larger joint military maneuver with Turkey. A joint military exercise between the two countries was held earlier this year.
Israel’s extensive bombardment of Gaza at the beginning of the year marked a turning point. The Turkish government has had to answer to public opinion, which struggled to stomach Israel’s military assault on the coastal territory. Even the Turkish military, which has had strong ties with the Israeli military, couldn’t look away.
Recent developments under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government including greater Judaization of East Jerusalem, infringements on Muslim worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque, and continued settlement building have only cemented Turkey’s position.
Anat Lapidot-Firilla from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University argued in the Israeli daily Haaretz that Turkey sees itself as a possible leader of the Sunni Muslim world.
Turkey "assumes a burden inherited from its Ottoman Empire forbears, a mission that includes fostering regional peace and stability as well as economic prosperity," said Lapidot-Firilla.
Turkey has had strong ties with the Israelis politically and militarily, and the downgrading of relations adds to an international momentum building up against Israel in light of its policies against the Palestinians and the slaughter in Gaza.
"The Turks could bring pressure to bear on the Israelis to moderate their treatment of the Palestinians as Israel values its strategic relations with Turkey. The Palestinians can only benefit from this," Awad told IPS.
"Turkey could also exert influence on the Americans to lean on their Israeli ally," says Awad. The U.S. regards Turkey as a bulwark against what it sees as a crescent of extremism that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
"It is also feasible that the Turks could lean on the leaders of the Arab world to give more than just lip service to the Palestinian cause. The Turks have set a moral example by taking diplomatic action against Israel, which is more than Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, have done," adds Awad.
Turkey plans to sponsor a number of pro-Palestinian resolutions in both regional and international forums.
These include the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Turkey also attended a recent meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries and a session of the Arab League, and Israel inevitably was on the agenda.
"While Turkey has previously supported pro-Palestinian resolutions in these forums, I think they will be more vocal in the future and lobby even harder," says Awad.
Finally, the Turks could help bring pressure on forthcoming Palestinian unity talks in Cairo, as Hamas and Fatah appear unable to bridge the divide on their own.