A long-awaited reconciliation deal with Israel is days away from being signed, according to both Turkish and Israeli authorities. The multi-million dollar package will compensate the families of those killed and injured in an Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla on its way to the Gaza Strip in May 2010 and normalize relations. The deadly assault was condemned by the international community – the Turkish ship was in international waters — and sparked a diplomatic freeze between the two countries.
Now, one year after U.S.-brokered mediation began, reconciliation is on the horizon with the deal set to be formalized after municipal elections take place in Turkey on Sunday. The financial repercussions look to be immediate: Israeli unions announced Tuesday that they would end a four-year boycott of Turkey’s tourism industry while a pipeline that will deliver natural gas from Israel to Turkish consumers is reportedly in the works. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal notes that, “There’s little doubt that Turkey’s recent economic troubles […] spurred some of the recent cooperation with Israel.”
VISUAL CONTEXT: Turkey’s economic woes
The deal also represents a diplomatic coup for Turkey – Israel had long refused to admit culpability for the raid – and may win it some brownie points in Washington. As for the home crowd, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is undoubtedly hoping it will offer concrete proof of his foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors.” (This platform has earned the premier much derision at home, where critics note that Turkey has nothing but problems with its neighbors.)
Yet what should be an easy political victory for Erdogan risks being submerged in the lead up to the local elections, which are viewed by many analysts as a preview of the presidential race this summer. Thanks to the cloud of scandal surrounding Erdogan, his heavily mediatized battle with former ally Fethullah Gulen, and the government’s inability to carry through the momentum of last year’s Kurdish ceasefire, the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party could see a dip in its support base and tight races in Turkey’s major cities, Istanbul and Ankara, on Sunday. That the reconciliation deal is still somewhat nebulous – it remains unclear how much money Israel will offer the victims’ families — could hurt the party (and the premier) as well.
There remain two critical elections in 2014: parliamentary and presidential ballots (Erdogan is preparing a bid for the latter). Normalization with Israel may yet earn Erdogan and the AKP some wiggle room with voters in both races and deflect attention from their domestic failings. That is if the premier doesn’t derail a lasting rapprochement with Israel. As of late, Erdogan has directed fiery rhetoric against Turkey’s Israeli neighbors, including blame for the military coup that ousted Egypt’s deposed president Mohammed Morsi. Even if the Turkish prime minister can concretize the deal, and take political credit, in the coming weeks, it’s hard to imagine – especially in the wake of his disastrous war on Twitter – that he won’t find another way to trip himself up before the next election.