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b_300_200_16777215_00_images_zz1-2.jpgOn May 26th, 2017 a panel on “Turkey-Israel Relations in a New Era: Expectations, Achievements and Realities -Opportunities for Civil Society” was held at Intercontinental Hotel Taksim, Istanbul. It was moderated by Arik Segal, Founder and CEO at ConntiX. The opening speeches were given by Dr. Hans - Georg Fleck - Head of Friedrich Naumann Foundation Turkey Office, Shai Cohen - Consul General of Israel and Namık Tan - Ambassador (Ret.). The distinguished participants of the panel were A. Ünal Çeviköz - Ambassador (Ret.) and Chairman of Ankara Policy Centre, Selin Nasi - Journalist from Şalom and Hürriyet Daily News, Roi Kais - Journalist from Yediot Ahrono, Dr. Galia Lindenstraus - Researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies and Dr. Salih Bıçakcı- Associate Professor at Kadir Has University. The main topics were the deal to normalise diplomatic relations after the crisis period, the importance of a strong civil society and how trust plays a major role in international relations.

Dr. Hans-Georg Fleck stated that even though the political climate was not encouraging when the Turkey-Israel Civil Society Forum (TICSF) was established in 2011. He believed in the ambitious plan because the civil society cooperation was the key for sustainability.

Shai Cohen talked about his arrival as an Ambassador to Turkey in 2014, when the Gaza war was ongoing. In these difficult times, he was surprised by the open atmosphere, especially in civil society circles, which could affect governments in a positive way. He praised the volume of bilateral cultural actions. After the normalisation agreement, he recognized the movement in many fields, including military. Turkey and Israel had common interests, for example in the war in Syria and in balancing the raising power of Iran and Hezbollah. He named Turkey and Israel the “two democratic Islands” in the regions. Further regional economic development (energy, water management, environment, tourism) was needed to strengthen the relations.

Namık Tan said that Turkey and Israel were confronted with a difficult geographic environment and it was in both sides interest to normalise their relations. He named new gas fields and the common cultural and historical background (both were orientated towards the West and the only non-Arab countries in the region) chances to establish peaceful relations between the countries.

A. Ünal Çeviköz stressed the importance of civil society; it had a huge impact on people’s relations. He believed that the normalisation between the countries was a new chapter and achievements could be already seen. He claimed that both sides were responsible for the Mavi Marmara incident, which was an emotional reaction. Also, the Davos incident in 2008 was an emotional reaction and already marked those Turkish-Israeli relations would face a crisis. Ceviköz said that the relation between foreign and domestic policy was important. In Turkey, domestic policy had a negative effect on foreign policy for the last 15 years. Moreover, nationalism hindered a democratic conduct of Turkish foreign policy. He sees a “long way to go” for Israel and Turkey.

Selin Nasi, as a representative of the Israeli society in Istanbul, stated that Turkey and Israel were the two non-Arab countries in an unsecure environment and the relations were following periodic ups and downs. The relations were not as close as in the 90s anymore, also, because the Turkish governments saw itself as a protector for Palestine. At the moments, the grounds to rebuild to relations were given. Nevertheless, the countries had different perceptions of Iran and the Kurds, Nasi said. According to her, anti-Semitism is a serious problem in the Turkish society and Turkish media is promoting it. The civil societies had to overcome bias against each other, but decision makers dictated the terms and had huge influence on civil societies.

b_300_200_16777215_00_images_zz12.jpgRoi Kais stressed the huge influence media can have on civil societies – in negative as well as in positive ways. He saw a problem of trust between the people. If the media showed the positive sides, it would slowly have positive influence. He said that Gaza was a separating issue between Turkey and Israel. He recommended building up closer media cooperation between the two countries.

Dr. Galia Lindenstraus stated that civil society work was crucial for the relations between the countries. She evaluated that in the Middle East, it was hard to be the regional hegemon but Turkey and Israel were vital powers of the regions. Iran’s growing power was a problem for the region and the war in Syria would play a role for a very long time. She assessed the Kurdish as a potential cooperation area, not a conflict. The Israeli-Turkish relations could help to counter the Iranian influence by Israel assisting the Kurds. Israel supported the Iraqi Kurds and not the PKK.

Dr. Salih Bıçakcı was more pessimistic regarding civil society relations and warned not to be too optimistic. He criticised that the many ups and downs in the relations between the countries destroyed trust. In 2010, he experienced a totally different Israeli society who loved Turkey. Bıçakcı explained that 56% of the Israeli did not support the normalisation agreement with Turkey. The impact of education was more important than military cooperation or energy deals and he emphasised the importance of social constructivism. He demanded a comprehensive scholarship system which allows students to experience life and reality in the other country.  

All speakers and panellists showed their gratitude to have the chance to speak in an open atmosphere about the obstacles and opportunities of Turkish-Israeli relations, especially civil society relations. They frankly reacted to the many statements and questions given by the distinguished audience.