Israel misreads history, corners itself
Israel misreads history, corners itself
Saturday, September 10,2011 15:56

 The Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara aid ship bound for Gaza on May 31, 2010, has proven to be a turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations. After the fundamentally flawed Palmer-Uribe report was leaked to the media on Sept. 1 and the Netenyahu government refused to apologize for the brutal execution of nine Turks, including one U.S. citizen whom Roger Cohen of the New York Times called “the forgotten American,” relations have hit a very low point. But the way the Israeli government has responded to the crisis and its refusal to respect international law and uphold the principle of justice has implications beyond bilateral relations and underscores Israel’s dismal failure to grasp the dynamics of the new Middle East. It is also a failure to understand Turkey’s resolve to protect the rights of its citizens.

The killing of nine people 78 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza in international waters is by any standards illegal and immoral. The Palmer Report acknowledges this by saying that Israeli commandos used “excessive force” and the government of Israel failed to provide any credible explanation for the killings from close range. Before a Cabinet meeting this week, Mr. Netanyahu said, “We need not apologize” for the killings, choosing a path of defiance that makes Israel all the more isolated and cornered in the world.

The Palmer-Uribe Report’s claim that the siege of Gaza is legal is essentially wrong and goes beyond its mandate. If the siege is legal, as the report claims, then the occupation of Palestine is legal too because the siege, which has been in effect since 2007, is an extension of the occupation. But the universally accepted fact, established by scores of reports and resolutions, is that the occupation of Palestine including the siege of Gaza is illegal, inhuman and immoral.

Turkey has dismissed the Palmer-Uribe Report because its conclusion about the siege contradicts previous statements and reports by the United Nations, including the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council and statements by the U.N. secretary-general. Furthermore, the Palmer Report, contrary to some claims, is not a legally binding document to be voted on at the U.N. nor is the panel a court that can issue a juridical view on Gaza. But by giving a carte blanche to Israel’s piracy in international waters, it has disregarded international law and undermined the fundamental principles of justice and freedom for all including the Palestinians.

The Netenyahu government’s refusal to issue a formal apology to Turkey has led to a swift reaction from Turkey. Prime Minister Erdo?an ordered the implementation of five measures against Israel including the lowering of diplomatic relations and freezing of military agreements. “No country is above the law,” said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, referring to the big elephant in the room, which is the Israeli exceptionalism in regional and global politics. PM Erdo?an described Israel as acting “like a spoiled child in the face of all U.N. decisions.” The prime minister also said Turkey has no quarrel with the people of Israel and Jews around the world. And he is proven to be right: Despite the tensions between the two countries, there has been no disturbance among the Turkish Jewish community.

Refusing to apologize and then claiming to want to repair relations with Turkey, as Mr. Netenyahu said recently, is not only an oxymoron but also self-delusional. As PM Erdo?an has declared on various occasions, Turkish-Israeli relations will not be normalized until and unless Turkey’s three conditions are met. Turkey keeps the door of diplomacy open, but it is up to Israel to pass through it or close it.

The Netenyahu government’s defiant yet eventually self-destructive approach is indicative of the eclipse of Israeli strategic thinking. Israeli politicians fail to understand that the fundamental values of the new Middle East spearheaded by the Arab Spring are no longer occupation, dictatorship and alienation but justice, freedom and rule of law. No policy that does not take these values seriously can have legitimacy. Policies of occupation, dispossession and humiliation will no longer be covered up and justified by petty dictators in the Middle East. This should be a wakeup call for Israel to end the occupation and have a serious reassessment of its strategic priorities.

By risking losing Turkey, Israel misreads history and ends up cornering itself not only in the Middle East but also in the U.S. According to former U.S. Defense Secretary Gates, “Netanyahu is not only ungrateful [for the billions of dollars of aid from the U.S.] but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation.”

I wonder what it will take to wake up the Israeli leaders from their slumber.

*Ibrahim Kalin is senior adviser to the prime minister of Turkey