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reflections

Jul 31, 2008 | 01:54 GMT

3 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Turbulence and Importance in Turkey and Israel

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Turkey's governing Justice and Development (AK) Party narrowly escaped a ban on Wednesday when the country's Constitutional Court rejected a case filed by the country's public prosecutor calling for the party to be shut down on charges of trying to undermine the secular nature of the Turkish republic. However, the party was found guilty of engaging in anti-secular activities and was hit with financial sanctions, which stripped it of half the funding it was entitled to for the current year. The chief justice, Hacim Kilic, remarked that the Islamist-rooted party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul has been given a "serious warning," which he hoped it would heed. The AK Party's unprecedented survival in court has as much to do with a compromise between the party and the secularist establishment as it does with the establishment's reluctance to plunge the country into chaos. Such instability would not have been limited to Turkish domestic politics, as it would have affected Ankara's ongoing emergence as a major international player. The Erdogan administration's move to have Turkey play the role of principal mediator in the peace talks between Syria and Israel — and the talks' progress — would have been adversely affected. On the same day that Turkey was able to avoid a domestic political meltdown, Israeli politics took a turn toward potential instability, which could have negative repercussions for the peace talks with Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he would step down in two months — as soon as his Kadima Party elects his successor in the primaries slated for late September. Olmert's departure from the scene is not important; who replaces him, and his successor's ability to hold the party and the coalition government together while pushing ahead with the talks with Damascus, are important. Despite the political differences between the rival factions in both Turkey and Israel, an underlying consensus has emerged in both countries regarding their respective geopolitical paths. Israel's rival political forces realize the importance of security on the country's northern frontier and see peace with Syria as the best way to achieve it. Similarly, the AK Party and the Turkish establishment agree that their country must become a player in the multiple regions on whose crossroads it sits, and for that they must reach an accommodation with one another. Although political instability within Israel is unlikely to completely torpedo the Israeli-Syrian peace process, it could create obstacles and delays in the negotiations. From the Syrians' point of view, the presence of the Turkish mediators is as important as the assurances that a new Israeli leadership is serious and capable of reaching a negotiated settlement. If either the Turkish or Israeli attitude toward the process changes because of domestic political factors, it will not bode well for the future of these talks. It is true that both Turkish and Israeli domestic political conditions have always been turbulent; governments come and go and their rise and fall does not have much bearing on geopolitics. But in the here and now, stability in both countries is exceedingly important. The Israeli-Syrian peace process, which could radically alter the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, depends on stability in both the Turkish and Israeli capitals. It was achieved in the former but has become elusive in the latter.

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