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Can Israel's New Coalition Fix Relations With Turkey?

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
January 28, 2013
TheAtlantic.com

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Since Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party's surprise showing last week in Israel's elections, there has been an outpouring of commentary about a new dawn in Israeli domestic and foreign policies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud, in conjunction with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party lost a combined eleven seats in the Knesset, will have to form a broader government that includes centrists like Lapid. As a result, a conventional wisdom has developed that this new coalition will lead Israel out of its international isolation. Typically, observers have been asking what the Lapid phenomenon means for the "peace process" -- as if that is something that exists. Yet a handful of commentators have also zeroed in on Turkey-Israel ties as ripe for rapprochement under a new, allegedly more conciliatory, Israeli government. It is a nice idea, but so are rainbows and unicorns. The reality is that, despite Lapid's rise, nothing has or will likely change to convince Israeli and Turkish leaders that mending ties is in their political interests.

To be fair, the Turks themselves have led foreign observers to believe that a change in Turkey-Israel relations was possible. For the better part of the last four years, Turkish officials have indicated that Israel itself was not the problem, but "this Israeli government," meaning, of course, Netanyahu's outgoing coalition of right-of-center parties. It is true that it is difficult to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu and that Foreign Minister Lieberman had, contrary to his job description, a knack for aggravating relations with other countries. Still, with the exception of the Mavi Marmara incident, the biggest problems in the Turkey-Israel relationship -- the blockade of the Gaza Strip and Operation Cast Lead -- predate Netanyahu's tenure. Indeed, the idea that a new broader and allegedly more moderate Israeli coalition will lead to reconciliation between Jerusalem and Ankara badly misreads the dynamics of Israel's left-right politics, the profound unpopularity of Israel in Turkey, and the centrality of the Middle East to the architects of Turkish foreign policy.

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