SETA Panel Discusses Turkey's Role as Israel-Syria Mediator

Article excerpt

THE WASHINGTON, DC office of the Turkish think tank SETA (Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research) held its inaugural event on Nov. 17-a panel discussion on the status of and prospects for Turkish mediation in Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. Ankara's role as mediator has recently been called into question as a result of escalations in rhetoric between Turkey and Israel and a demonstrated willingness of France to oversee the process.

Ufuk Ulutas, SETA's Middle East program coordinator, expressed confidence that "a deal between Syria and Israel is reachable if the parties are willing to make the necessary concessions." The differences separating the Israeli and Syrian positions are less complex than those present in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he pointed out. Reaching an agreement on the Israeli-Syrian track is certainly feasible, therefore. Ulutas warned, however, that "neither side is ready to make the concessions" required at this stage.

Stressing the transient nature of the current tensions between Israel and Turkey, he suggested that tensions could be reduced through a series of gestures by both sides. Ulutas proposed, for example, that Turkey could help "free the prisoner Gilad Shalit." Even if Turkey is able to reclaim the role of mediator and guide Israel and Syria to an agreement, he concluded, the U.S. must step in during the final stages to ensure successful implementation and stability of the agreement.

"They are knocking on everyone's door," Geoffrey Aronson, director of research and publications at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, said of the Turks. "Sometimes they are let into the room, most of the time they are not." Aronson remarked that Ankara's constant desire for involvement anywhere and everywhere can "be an asset, but can [also] reflect a lack of focus." Referring to periodic cases of disappointment with Israel, as happened in 2004 and 2008, Aronson criticized Turkey's habit of "permit[ing] themselves to be diverted. …