Tony Karon writes:
Israel’s fallout with long-time ally Turkey is no isolated spat that will be repaired any time soon; it’s a dramatic illustration that no amount of U.S. backing can prevent the growing international isolation resulting from Israel’s handling of the Palestinian issue. Indeed, the unconditional nature of Washington’s backing may, in fact, have become dysfunctional to Israel’s diplomatic standing: A U.S. domestic political climate in which challenging Israel on anything is about as wise as threatening to cut medicare payments leaves Washington unable to restrain the most right-wing government in Israeli history from its most self-destructive urges, while economic changes and the radical policies adopted by the United States in the decade since 9/11 have left Washington’s influence in the Middle East at its weakest since World War II.
The trigger for Turkey expelling Israel’s ambassador, cutting defense ties and vowing to wage a diplomatic campaign against the blockade of Gaza and in support of the Palestinian move for recognition of statehood at the United Nations was the Netanyahu government’s refusal to apologize for the killing of nine Turkish citizens and a Turkish American in last year’s raid on the Gaza flotilla. The Obama Administration had tried to broker a rapprochement involving some form of Israeli apology, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reportedly been inclined to accept but his ultranationalist foreign minister and key coalition partner (as well as rival) Avidgor Lieberman refused to countenance it.
The breakdown, however, is about a lot more than an apology: The flotilla itself, after all, had sailed in direct challenge to the Gaza blockade, with the support of the Turkish government — an expression of the fact that Ankara was no longer willing to follow its NATO allies, under U.S. leadership, in turning a blind eye to the plight of the beleaguered Palestinians. Israeli leaders and their most enthusiastic boosters in Washington like to paint this as a sign that Turkey had “gone over” to the region’s Iranian-led “resistance” camp, but despite the ruling AK Party’s roots in moderate political Islam and its insistence on a political solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran, Turkey is in fact a regional rival for influence with Tehran. Ankara’s stance on the Palestinians, like its refusal to support or enable the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq and its stance on the Iran nuclear issue or its break with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, is based on its own reading of what’s good for the region — which is quite different from Washington’s — and on Turkish public opinion. And, as if to underscore the fact that its break with Israel doesn’t threaten its commitment to NATO, Turkey announced last week that it had agreed to host radar installations for a NATO missile defense system targeting Iran.
Turkey’s actions also reflect a growing international impatience with and loss of faith in Washington’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is worried, with good reason, that Egypt — whose foreign policy has been made more responsive to public opinion by the overthrow of the Israel-friendly U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak last February — may follow the Turkish example.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports:
Rising tensions with some of its closest and most important allies have left Israel increasingly isolated ahead of a momentous vote on Palestinian independence at the United Nations.
Troubles with Turkey, Egypt and even the U.S. are adding to Israel’s headaches ahead of the vote, which is shaping up to be a global expression of discontent against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Palestinians plan to ask the United Nations this month to recognize their independence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war – probably by embracing them as a “nonmember observer state.” The measure is expected to pass overwhelmingly in the U.N. General Assembly.
The assembly’s decisions are not legally binding, so the vote will be largely symbolic. But the Palestinians hope the measure will increase the already considerable pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, and add leverage should peace talks resume. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate while Israel continues to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian government in the West Bank, said Israeli isolation is playing right into Palestinian hands. “We are seeing that result in increased support for us in the United Nations,” he said.
On Wednesday, China announced it would support the Palestinian bid. And a French Mideast envoy, Valerie Hoffenberg, said she had been fired after publicly arguing against the Palestinian initiative. France has not publicly said how it will vote, but her comments signaled that the government favors the Palestinians.