ANKARA—The leader of the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel has urged Turkey to normalize ties with Israel before 1915, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, or risk the Jewish lobby to “stay neutral” on that issue.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Zali De Toledo said : “As 2015 is approaching, Turkey should take into account its interests and should normalize relations with Israel by appointing an ambassador to Israel as soon as possible. If both countries miss the opportunity to mend the ties, the Israeli lobby will likely stay neutral when 2015 comes.”
De Toledo told Today’s Zaman that she had done her utmost to pressure the Israeli lobby in the US to refrain from labeling mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 as genocide, adding: “I was the strongest supporter of the Turkish position. And now I am really disappointed to see Turkish-Israeli relations at this point.”
De Toledo was speaking of strains in Israel-Turkey relations after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010. In late March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered an apology to Israel, but that has not translated into immediate thaw in relations.
De Toledo served as Israeli cultural attaché to Turkey for 10 years, from 1993 to 2003. Israeli President Shimon Peres offered her the position in a bid to improve relations between the two countries.
Referring to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s harsh stance toward Israel over the Gaza issue, De Toledo says: “It’s a one-man show in Turkey. Why is Erdoğan asking for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza? Why is he interfering? This is an issue between Israelis and Gazans, after all!”
Israeli apology has nothing to do with isolation in region
Israel did not apologize to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident because it felt isolated in the Middle East, according to Reuven Azar, head of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bureau for Middle East Research, reported Today’s Zaman.
“It is not an issue of feeling alone in the region or not. It is more than that. Israel considers Turkey a major player in the region and wants to have an alliance with it just like in the past years. Israelis have sympathy toward Turkey and want to restore relations,” Azar told a group of Turkish journalists at the Israeli Foreign Ministry earlier this week.
“Israel is not alone. When it comes to the balance of power in the region, our position is better than the past in terms of security and economy,” Azar said.
The Israeli prime minister said that Israel apologized to Turkey because of the volatile situation in Syria.
Azar went on to say that Israel and Turkey have common interests when it comes to Syria. “The common goal is to maintain stability in the country,” he said.
Addressing the strained relations between the two countries, Azar said that Ankara and Tel Aviv can solve the problems that concern each side, adding that the two countries should come to an understanding and move on.
“However, we don’t really know what is going to be the future of the Turkish approach toward Israel. Turkey’s relations with Hamas are seriously disturbing. This situation brings a question to mind — to what extent can we put our eggs in the Turkish basket?” Azar said.
Relations between Turkey and Hamas, which rules Gaza, have been improving since Turkey’s ties with Israel collapsed over the Mavi Marmara incident.
“We have to ask whether Mavi Marmara is the only issue on the table. Where is Turkey heading in terms of political orientation? We look to Turkey-Hamas relations with great concern. We know that Turkey supports the Middle East peace process, but on the other hand it talks with Hamas,” Azar said.
In early October, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal paid a surprise visit to Ankara, where he met with Erdoğan for talks on Palestinian reconciliation and developments in the Middle East.