Oguz Celikkol: “Turkey and Israel also could mend up their ties after a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict”
Not once, Turkish-Israel relations have been overclouded by criticism in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In late 2018, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of providing a terrorist policy at the state level and killing Palestinians. In his turn, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused President of Turkey of “obsession of Israel” and said that “he daily faces attacks by the anti-Semite dictator.” The former ambassador of Turkey to Israel Oguz Celikkol answered Vestnik Kavkaza’s questions on the margins of the International Winter School in Istanbul, organized by BILGESAM.
- In late February, Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner visited Ankara and met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said that he intended to announce a new plan of peaceful resolution in the Middle East. What are your expectations?
- There are many roumors in the press about this plan. We don’t know that because they don’t make it public. But if we look at the actions of the Trump administration, we see that they recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They withdrew their support from Palestinian organizations which help refugees even under the United Nations. They shut down the Palestinian office in Washington. They withdrew from UNESCO because UNESCO takes pro-Palestinian solutions. All decisions of the Trump administration coming one after another show that the plan is not going to be pro-Palestinian. There are speculations in the press that the plan is going to be very pro-Israeli. Since Trump’s administration came in power, all its decisions were considered by the Palestinians unacceptable. And the Palestinians are not negotiating with Trump’s administration. They refused to talk to Jared Kushner on the plan. They say America has lost impartiality in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Until Trump’s administration disappears and Trump no longer rules America, America cannot play a role in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. But America prepared this plan hoping that Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Egypt are going to put pressure on the Palestinians to accept this plan. Kushner came to Ankara within a tour to the Middle East. Some press reports indicate that there is going to be a large section of economic benefits for Palestinians and all states in the Middle East who support this plan. Who is going to pay the price of economic benefits? Probably the oil-rich Gulf countries are going to pay to build the economic side of this plan.
- What can you say about Turkish-American relations?
- America and Turkey are passing through very difficult time. Turkey buys S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia and America is not happy about it. Many people in Turkey believe that the United States stands behind 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. America suddenly stopped caring for Syria. And they stopped any actions started during Obama’s administration in Syria. And Iran and Russia took American inaction to become predominant powers in Syria. And Turkey had no option but cooperate with Russia to find a political solution in Syria.
- How deep is the crisis between Turkey and Israel today? Do you believe in normalization of the bilateral relations in the near future?
- If you look at the history of Turkey and Israel, it has always been affected by the Palestinian issue. Even though Turkey was the first state to recognize the state of Israel in 1948, it voted against the Partition Plan in 1947.
Turkey was one of the states who reacted to the Israeli decision to annex territories. When the Palestine Liberation Organization was a leftist organizations, there was a wide spread support of PLO in the Turkish left. Turkey was one of first states which recognized the unilateral declaration of the Palestinian state in 1988. So when we look at the history of Jewish-Turkish relations, the Palestinian issue has always played a big role. But in recent years, it became more predominant. When Turkish-Israeli relations flourished in the 1990s, that was Oslo process. The Palestinians and Israel negotiated within the Two States Solution. Unfortunately, Israel now no longer supports the Two States Solution.
What Turkey wants in Palestine is not very different from what other European states want. Turkey wants the Two States Solution and a Palestinian state which is going to live side by side with Israel. That’s what European states also support. Turkey’s position didn’t’t change. If Palestinian-Israeli relations go back to a normal track, when the negotiations start again, Turkey and Israel could also mend up their ties. But if Israel supports the policy which gets farer from the solution of the Palestinian problems, apparently, Turkish-Israeli relations are going to be difficult.