Turkey's Relations with Arab States and Israel

Article excerpt

The Middle East Institute's Center for Turkish Studies hosted its Second Annual Conference on Turkey, June 25 at the University Club in Washington, DC. Entitled "Change Within and Beyond Borders: Turkey's Domestic and Foreign Policy Agenda," the day-long conference featured keynote speeches by and panels featuring politicians, journalists and academics. Veteran journalist and State Department correspondent Kim Ghattas moderated an afternoon panel on Turkey's foreign policy.

The Honorable Suat Kõnõklõo?lu, a leading member of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), discussed Turkey's rising influence with its neighboring countries. Ankara is following a policy of reintegration with countries in the Caucasus, the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa, he explained, through economic partnerships, people-to-people contact, and the lifting of visa restrictions. Turkey's stance toward the Arab Spring has been to encourage leaders to open up and respond to people's demands for reform, all the while advocating for nonviolence and the respect of sovereignty. Kõnõklõo?lu encouraged domestic transformations that are led and owned by the people, with as little influence from abroad as possible.

Regarding Turkey's close relationship with Syria, Kõnõklõo?lu said that Ankara maintains contact with the authorities in Damascus as well as with the opposition movement. Since the uprisings began in Egypt, he said, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has urged his Syrian counterpart to reform. Turkey is particularly affected by the unrest in Syria, he noted, with more than 10,000 Syrian refugees on the border, which Kõnõklõo?lu said will remain open. As Muslim countries look to Turkey as an example of religious and secular cohabitation, Kõnõklõo?lu said he hopes Turkey can influence events in the region in a moderate and progressive manner, offering guidance and expertise.

Ambassador Dr. Alon Liel, former director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and author of numerous books on Turkey, focused on Turkish-Israeli relations, tracing the history of "sharp ups and downs" that has marked dealings between the two nations since the late 1940s, when Israel was established. Liel referred to the Oslo process of the 1990s as a "love affair...a dream come true" that proved that a close relations between Israel and Muslim states are possible. This was succeeded by tension during the second intifada, improved relations during Turkey's mediation between Israel and Syria, and another low following the 2008-09 war in Gaza.

The Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli Defense Forces killed nine Turkish activists aboard a flotilla headed to Gaza, led to a "total collapse" of the relationship. …