1) The apology
The Washington Post reported Obama ends Israel visit by brokering end to dispute with Turkey:
Prodded by President Obama, Israel and Turkey agreed Friday to end a three-year rift caused by a deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, a rapprochement urgently sought by the United States to help contain spillover from the worsening fighting in Syria.
During an airport meeting with Obama at the end of his two-day visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
Bowing to a long-standing Turkish demand, Netanyahu apologized for the deaths of nine activists aboard the Turkish ship and promised to reach an agreement on compensation to their families, according to a statement from his spokesman.
A flattering news analysis in the New York Times Obama Shows Talent for Arm-Twisting, and Raises Hopes on Peace Effort reads in part:
Mr. Obama’s success in persuading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to apologize to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, healing a rift between the countries, is the kind of person-to-person deal-making that has eluded him with Republicans in Congress.
But Mr. Obama kept prodding Mr. Netanyahu, senior advisers said, raising the importance of a makeup phone call every day he was in Jerusalem. He also worked on Mr. Erdogan, a prickly politician with whom Mr. Obama has cultivated a relationship since entering office.
By the time they agreed to talk, Mr. Obama had fully embraced the role of Middle East mediator, warming up Mr. Erdogan before handing the phone to Mr. Netanyahu, who expressed regret for the deadly actions by Israeli commandos during a 2010 raid on a Turkish ship that was trying to breach a blockade of Gaza.
Of course the New York Times sees President Obama’s success as a first possible step in a peace process with the Palestinians.
The Times of Israel reported that some of the commando on the raid had mixed feelings about the apology.
“I don’t feel we did anything wrong,” one of the commandos, who for security reasons requested to identify only by the initial “N”, told the Hebrew daily Maariv on Sunday. “We did the right thing, I’m not ashamed of it, and we have nothing to apologize for.”
Nine Turkish citizens were killed after they attacked the commandos, who sought to commandeer the vessel that was attempting to bypass Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza. The incident led to a freezing of ties between the two former allies, a relationship which was said to be on the path to normalization following a phone call between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Despite N’s firm belief that his actions were justified, he was reluctant to criticize Netanyahu directly, stating that, from a diplomatic standpoint, reconciliation may actually make sense. “Although on the personal level there is no need to apologize, on a national scale it might have been a good idea,” he said.
Most of the reporting on the apology focused on the deteriorating relations between Israel and Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident and fail to acknowledge that Turkey under Erdogan had been increasingly hostile to Israel. The Mavi Marmara was the pretext Erdogan had for breaking off relations with Israel but it should also have been portrayed as a hostile act against Israel. Most news reports underplayed Erdogan’s extremism – note that the New York Times called him “prickly” as if he were easily annoyed.
Barry Rubin argues that this wasn’t much of a surrender for Israel.
Now, a compromise has been reached, apparently with some help from President Barack Obama. The agreement, which includes restoring normal bilateral relations, has been portrayed as some sort of Israeli surrender.
That is simply not true. The agreement is much closer to Israel’s position. There is no change on Israel’s strategic policy toward the Gaza Strip at all. While the word “apology” appears in Netanyahu’s statement, it is notably directed at the Turkish people, not the government and is of the sorry-if-your feelings-were-hurt variety.
Moreover, Israel denied that it killed the Turkish citizens intentionally, a situation quite different from what Erdogan wanted, and offered to pay only humanitarian assistance to families.
Should Israel have expressed regret when it should instead receive an apology from the Turkish government for helping to send terrorists to create a confrontation? On purely moral grounds, no. Yet as I pointed out Israel did not abandon its long-standing position on the issue. It does not want an antagonism with the Turkish people nor one that will continue long after Erdogan and his regime are long out of office. Perhaps this was undertaken to make Obama happy and in exchange for U.S. benefits. But what has happened is far more complex than onlookers seem to be realizing.
A year and a half ago, the New York Times reported Israel Says It Won’t Apologize to Turkey for Deadly Flotilla Raid.
A diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject, said the American request for such an apology was reiterated on Tuesday in a phone call between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Turks kept adding conditions for a reconciliation, raising uncertainty in Mr. Netanyahu’s government over whether they were sincere and whether they would consider the case closed even if a deal were reached.
As a result, Israel’s security cabinet refused on Wednesday to endorse a package of understandings with Turkey that would have included an Israeli apology for any operational errors during the commando raid and agreement to pay into a compensation fund for the victims in return for a Turkish commitment not to pursue legal action against Israeli soldiers.
This was less than what Turkey had been demanding at the time:
Turkey has demanded an official apology, compensation to victims’ relatives and a lifting of the blockade on Gaza as conditions for normalizing its heavily strained relations with Israel, formerly an important ally.
(An “apology for operational errors,” is not the same thing as an “official apology.”)
It’s worth noting that for all President Obama’s much lauded newfound skill in deal making, Erdogan backtracks on understandings with Netanyahu:
Erdogan said Saturday it was too early to cancel legal steps against Israeli soldiers who took part in the raid on the Mavi Mamara.
According to the Hurriyet daily, Erdogan also said the exchange of ambassadors between Israel and Turkey would not take place immediately.
“We will see what will be put into practice during the process. If [the Israelis] move forward in a promising way, we will make our contribution. Then, there would be an exchange of ambassadors,” Erdogan was quoted as saying, in remarks at an opening ceremony for a high-speed railway line in the central Turkish province of Eskişehir.
So exactly how will Erdogan’s latest be reported? Or will it be reported?
When I saw the title – Israel – Bits, bytes and bombs – of the latest Thomas Friedman column, I cringed. In the end about half of it was quite good and the other half was typical Friedman.
It’s impressive and necessary because Israel is the only country in the world today that has nonstate actors, armed with missiles, nested among civilians on four out of five of its borders: the Sinai, Gaza, southern Lebanon and Syria. Beyond them lies a hinterland of states consumed by internal turmoil, and Iran. Yet Israel has managed to juggle bits, bytes and bombs — with high walls that neutralize its enemies and high-tech that nourishes its economy.
But there is a fine line between keeping danger out and locking fantasy in, between keeping your people alive and keeping crazy dreams alive. Israel is close to crossing that line.
Indeed, the crazy dream Israel is keeping alive is that it can permanently occupy the West Bank, with its 2.5 million Palestinians, to satisfy biblically inspired settlers, who now hold major cabinet positions, like the housing portfolio, in Israel’s new government. With nearly 600,000 Israelis now living in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the window for a two-state solution “is slowly vanishing from the earth,” notes the Hebrew University philosopher Moshe Halbertal. Amazingly, polls still show a majority on both sides for a two-state deal, “but there is a deep trust problem” that has to be overcome — fast.
Of course Friedman, trying to sound reasonable asks that Abbas get back to negotiating without preconditions – something Abbas pointedly refused to consider in his joint press conference with President Obama. (Will that defiance earn Abbas a “Driving drunk in Ramallah” column?)
Friedman can cite all the doomsday quotes he wants, but the occupation mostly ended in 1995. Furthermore he ignores, what Barry Rubin terms “the day after issues,” such as:
- What is a deal with the PA worth when it won’t include the Gaza Strip, where Hamas would redouble its efforts to attack Israel and work hard to undermine any such agreement?
– What reason is there to believe there won’t be cross-border terrorism across the new international frontier, and that the government of Palestine will do anything about this terrorism?
- What about the likelihood of the Palestine government inviting in the armies of other countries, or at least getting advanced weapons from them?
- How is Israel going to deal with the PA’s passionately held demand that millions of Palestinians be allowed to come and live in Israel?
- Why should Israel believe in any guarantees and assurances from the United States and Europe when such promises have been repeatedly broken — including ones made by Obama himself?
Furthermore Friedman asserts Israel needs to test Abbas. Is Abbas really the moderate Friedman seems to believe?
Obama: Israelis have true peace partner in Abbas. Abbas: We have the same policies as Hamas. Hamas: Killing Je… bit.ly/11xnIXw
— BadBlue News (@BadBlueNews) March 23, 2013
For the first part of the op-ed, Friedman seems to give serious consideration to the fact that Israel is an island of normalcy in a sea of turmoil. Unfortunately, in the second half he reverts to his “Israel is in mortal danger” trope. I guess I could say that this column isn’t half bad. But I wouldn’t mean it as a compliment.