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Should Israel Apologize to Turkey?

U.N. flotilla report delayed again so that negotiations can continue

Marc Tracy
July 25, 2011
The Mavi Marmara off the Israeli coast last May.(David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images)
The Mavi Marmara off the Israeli coast last May.(David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations’ official probe into last summer’s Gaza flotilla has had its release postponed again, to August 20 and at Israel’s request, in order to buy yet more time for Israel and Turkey to negotiate a diplomatic rapprochement. Early word on the so-called Palmer Report was that it would be surprisingly favorable to Israel: lamenting the loss of life and charging Israel with using excessive force, but not calling for an apology, reaffirming the Gaza blockade’s legality, and placing some of the blame on Turkey. Overall, a pretty big win for Israel, especially when you consider the venue. Meanwhile, Israel and Turkey’s common interests as non-Arab countries in the midst of the Arab Spring—and specifically as two countries that border the basket case known as Syria—was seen to draw them closer, so that the sole hurdle to a nice photo-op between Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Erdogan was finding a way to say sorry in Turkish but not in Hebrew (no, really). Yet yesterday, following earlier reports that Israel’s cabinet would vote on whether to apologize in exchange for reconciliation, Netanyahu apparently pulled the plug. “It is unclear whether the delay of the discussion is a result of a progress in talks with Turkey or the consequence of a setback,” reports Haaretz.

It is likewise unclear whether Turkey’s Erdogan is making serious threats or merely posturing when he insists on an apology. If Erdogan holds fast to this demand, he has sticks at his disposal: He could further downgrade diplomatic ties, and he has even made noises about attempting to visit Gaza, which is not a spectacle Israel wants. On the other hand, if Erdogan refuses to play ball, he would be denying himself the carrot of a U.N. report less harsh on Turkey than the current one. The implication of Israel’s request to delay the release of a favorable report, after all, is that Israel would be willing to make that report less favorable in exchange for a deal.

Which is why I must (sigh) agree with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and others and oppose this apology. There is the principled reason: an apology undercuts the blockade and Israel’s soldiers ability to act in self-defense. And there are realpolitik reasons: an apology proves that bullying works, and that Turkey has the power and can dictate the terms of whatever new Turkish-Israeli alliance results. By contrast, the Syria situation as well as the U.N. report reveal that Turkey needs Israel as much as the other way around. “So what should Israel do?” asks Amir Mizroch, former executive editor of The Jerusalem Post. “Fuck’em. Seriously. Apologizing would be a massive, historic capitulation we’ll end up paying for on a much larger scale.” I don’t share his hyperbole, but the sentiment makes sense.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.