I must admit that I actually feel a slight twinge of sympathy for poor Yvet Lieberman. He was abandoned by his boss, the prime minister, in today’s Knesset vote rejecting putting human rights NGOs on the hot seat for their work in Israel. The foreign minister had hoped to put the screws to groups like B’Tselem, New Israel Fund, and Yesh Gvul, whom he’s likened to “Kapos” in the past for their alleged delegitimizing of Israel. Today’s defeat has got to smart.
Now comes news from Turkey that a compromise agreement is in the offing which would resolve all outstanding differences between Israel and that country. But there’s one catch: Israel will have to apologize to Turkey for murdering nine of its citizens on the Mavi Marmara last year. This really sticks in Lieberman’s craw. He’s a proud ex-Kahanist for whom apologies are a bitter pill to swallow. Jews don’t apologize. They make others apologize.
Lieberman single-handedly torpedoed an earlier agreement between the two sides containing such language. The fact that the Turks are speaking publicly about an impending agreement and that they’re explicitly saying it will contain an apology is yet another defeat for the foreign minister at the hands of his boss, Bibi Netnayahu. It signals that Yvet is much the junior partner in this government. Someone for whom his votes are useful. But not someone who is feared or even respected. That too has got to sting for Lieberman who’s the prototypical Israeli Rodney Dangerfield (“I don’t get no respect.”).
For Turkey, such an apology has been worth cancelling Turkish participation in this year’s Gaza Flotilla. That being said, Prime Minister Erdogan doesn’t seem prepared to abandon Gaza entirely as he’s planned a trip there in the near future. Such a visit will no doubt irk Israel, which rarely allows any foreign leaders into the territory. After a resolution of their differences, it would seem impossible for the Israeli government to turn Erdogan away when he says he’s going. Having such a figure visit Gaza will further tarnish Israel’s siege of the enclave. His meetings with Hamas leaders will also irk Israel.
Finally, all of this indicates that when Israel and Turkey confronted each other, Bibi blinked first. Israel needed Turkey more than Turkey needed Israel. That being said, Turkey too showed restraint and willingness to compromise. It cancelled the Mavi Marmara’s participation in the Flotilla. It will accept a UN report which blames both Israel and Turkey for the disaster. It will swallow its pride at the humiliation suffered by its ambassador when he was hectored by Danny Ayalon. Erdogan is a proud man and such slights stung. But he has a strategic vision of where he’d like to go and isn’t allowing his pride to sidetrack him. Bibi should learn a lesson or two from him (but undoubtedly won’t).