Israelis readier than ever for raid apology, poll shows

Dr. Nimrod Goren September 2012
Op-eds / Israel and the East Mediterranean

The Arab Spring appears to have changed the views of Israelis on Turkey, as a recent poll revealed that a majority favor Israel apologizing to Turkey for the 2010 killings of Turks in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, an Israeli think tank head has said.

The public opinion poll of The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (MITVIM) revealed that 54 percent of Israelis with an opinion would support Tel Aviv in ending its intransigence and apologizing for the killings of the nine aid activists.

But Nimrod Goren, the chairman of MITVIM, is cautious about whether the Israeli government will change its decision and apologize. “[Still], the findings can give backing to those who are trying to convince the government behind the scenes to apologize,” he told the Daily News in a recent interview.

One hears several reasons behind the Israeli government’s decision not to offer Turkey an apology for the killings on the Mavi Marmara. In your view, what is the overriding reason?

It was a political decision. One [part of it] was philosophical, ideological – the belief that Turkey eventually did not want to reconcile with Israel; that no matter what Israel does, relations will not come back to where they were.

Having said that, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu sent a delegation to negotiate with Turks. They reached an agreement under which Netanyahu seemed to be ready to accept. He sent [Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs] Minister Moshe Ya’alon with the hope that he might give to the deal the legitimacy he was looking for [but it did not work out], because he came back opposing it.

And Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman opposed it. Having these two right-wing politicians against it, Netanyahu made a decision not to go ahead.

Where are we a year after, especially with the developments of the Arab Spring?

It seems that the government, as well as the public are more aware of what the Arab Spring means and the consequences of it. People saw the regime change in Egypt. They see the rise of political Islam. They see the chaos in Syria. They see that Israel has to confront some weak states around it. They feel suddenly without any balancing actor. How can we modify that? One way to modify was to look for allies outside the Middle East. That was the approach toward Greek Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania.

But these are not substitutes to difficult actors in the Muslim Ar ab world with whom Israel needs to deal with. Eventually you cannot escape from the region you are in. We have to find a way to conduct foreign policy within the Middle East. Whether the government will move toward that change or whether we will never reach that change, I am not sure.

So the government tried to find allies from outside the region as a response to the developments of the Arab Spring?

The government adopted the policy of trying to hang onto the status quo. But then came the changing of the priority of threats, the whole debate about Iran, the developments in Egypt and Syria. These put Turkey in a different place. People have a better understanding that Turkey is an ally of the West, a friend of the U.S., an actor that has leverage over several Arab countries [and has] significant means to shape developments in Syria. People now have a better understanding that we cannot remain isolated in the Middle East.

But it looks like the understanding among the public does not resonate with the government. Where exactly does Israel stand as far as relations with Turkey are concerned and about extending an apology?

It’s difficult to talk about it because it is a government of a coalition of different parties, and there are different voices, even within Likud.

[Ultimately], it’s a Netanyahu decision. When Netanyahu [entered into a] unity government with Kadima, one of the assumptions was that it would help to open the door with Turkey. But this unity government did not last long. We are back with a right-wing government that will take us to elections somewhere in the near future. It does not seem that this government is going for any major regional diplomatic initiative.

So it is fair to say that the Netanyahu government holds the same position on the issue of an apology.

But I think it is willing to reconsider it. We do not know exactly what is going on behind the scenes. There are frequent media reports that Brits and Americans are doing some talks here and there. There seems to be something happening.

But definitely the findings of the poll that shows that Israeli people are more supportive [of giving an apology] than before could give some backing to those that are willing to act toward it. In the past, it was seen as a counterproductive political action to do – as far as the public reaction was concerned.
What do you think is behind the change in the public view?

I don’t think the public really knew what the issue was really about. Last year, there was no public debate about the Palmer report [on the flotilla]. Everything was done behind closed doors. The whole debate was about an apology, yes or no. No one knew what we were expected to get out of the apology. The public was not educated, and that enabled the politicians to make a decision without having to engage with the public.

This changed during the year because so many people and so many institutions began to deal with the Arab Spring and its consequences. People are following Middle Eastern affairs [with concern], and when they look at the region, they spot Turkey. It is a country they know. But I don’t think the government is aware of it. People were quite surprised by the findings, including ourselves. We did not expect a majority to be in favor of an apology because last year it was unthinkable. Now they might start to think about the implications.

Is there any likelihood that the Israeli government will change its decision on giving an apology in the short term?

The decision and implementation could be very quick because the formula is known. The question is what will be the political point at which Netanyahu decides it is the best thing to do. Maybe this could be before elections in Israel if [Barack] Obama is re-elected as U.S. president. He might be afraid that Obama might pressure him on the Palestinian issue, and he is giving Obama something on the Turkish issue, which is important for Obama.

It could happen quite quickly. But I am not sure that as long as Lieberman remains as foreign minister, the political environment will enable it [to occur] very smoothly.

Who is Nimrod Goren

Dr. Nimrod Goren is the founder and chair of Mitvim – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, a think tank working to reshape Israel’s relations in the Middle East, Europe and the Mediterranean.
Nimrod is a teaching fellow in Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern studies and political psychology from Hebrew University.
His dissertation dealt with “The role of external incentives in promoting peace: The cases of Israel and Turkey.” Nimrod was the executive director of the Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation (YIFC) between 2003 and 2009. For his work at YIFC, he was awarded the 2009 Victor J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East.
He worked at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement for Peace, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Levtzion Center for Islamic Studies. In 2007, he served as a consultant to an official conflict transformation initiative in Northern Ireland.
Poll: Israelis want their country to apologize

A large percentage of Israelis would support a deal under which Tel Aviv apologizes for the 2010 killings of nine Turks in a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, according to a public opinion poll from the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (MITVIM).

A majority of those with an opinion, 54 percent, said they would favor an agreement that includes an apology, while 39 percent said they were against it.

Some 68 percent also said Israel should take action toward improving relations with Turkey.

According to the poll, a plurality of Israelis thinks their government has not done enough to improve Israeli-Turkish relations. Eighteen percent said the government was doing almost nothing, while 22 percent said it was not doing enough. Some 28 percent said the government’s efforts were sufficient, while 32 percent did not state an opinion.

A majority of the public said improving relations with Turkey would assist Israel in its international campaign against Iran.

A majority of the public – 53 percent of those with an opinion – would be ready to return and visit Turkey if relations with Israel were mended. When broken down according to identity, 49 percent of Jews said they would be ready to return to Turkey, versus 84 percent of the Arab-Israeli population.

(originally published in the Hurriyet Daily News0

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