Can Israel adapt to democracy?

While Israel’s ability to develop internally as a democracy is shackled by the undemocratic nature of Zionism, it’s hardly surprising that the growth of democracy outside Israel — notably in Turkey and Egypt — presents a conundrum for the Jewish state: how can harmonious relations be maintained with historically friendly governments without also attempting to cultivate friendly relations with the people that those governments represent?

Democracy is a simple idea: people matter. And if Israel doesn’t get this, it doesn’t get democracy.

İhsan Dağı writes:

Public opinion has had an increasing impact on Turkey’s foreign policy-making in recent years. Democratization and a growing participation in civil society, due to economic development and the EU accession process, have empowered public opinion to assert itself on the matter of foreign affairs, which was not the case a decade ago. Thus Turkey’s relationship with Israel was questioned whenever Israel engaged in violent policies in the region, like the war in Lebanon and the attacks on Gaza. Public reaction to Israeli aggression in the region is bound to be taken into consideration by a government that is accountable to its people.

Especially after the killing of eight Turks and one Turkish-American aboard the Mavi Marmara by Israeli soldiers, public opinion is ever more important. It will be very difficult to win the people over to a rapprochement with Israel, without at least an official apology and compensation.

It is therefore a mistake to assume that the Erdoğan government is the source of the problem, and to claim that Turkish-Israeli relations would return to normal under a non-AK Party government. To refute this I will say two things: First, the AK Party government is only responding to the public mood and demands. Second, the AK Party is very unlikely to disappear from the political scene in Turkey. That is to say that both the current public mood and the AK Party’s rule appear as though they will be around for a while. So instead of sitting and waiting in vain for them to disappear, Israel and its friends should try to not lose Turkey’s support permanently.

My advice to the Israeli government is that it should get used to living and working with the AK Party government, and to try to understand the “new Turkey” because even in a future post-AK Party period things will never be the same as in days past.

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