"If the Trump peace plan surprises and succeeds where all its predecessors failed, Israel-Turkey relations will also improve"
Gallia Lindenstrauss, Research Fellow at the INSS
What does Turkey believe it stands to gain from the Trump peace plan?
Turkey is very skeptical about Trump’s peace plan. If, unexpectedly, the plan succeeds where all its predecessors have failed, then Ankara will expand and strengthen its relations with Israel and the Palestinians. Over the years, there has been a correlation between progress in the peace process and the robustness of the Israel-Turkey relations.
Ankara objects to changes in the regional status quo that stems from violence or armed clashes. A successful peace process will enable it to promote its trade with Middle East countries, including Israel. In light of that, significant progress in the peace process is also expected to project positively on the Israel-Turkey relations, despite the tension in the bilateral relations over the past decade.
Photo: studio farag, courtesy of the author
What does it fear it might lose?
Turkey’s reserved approach to the Trump peace plan stems from two main reasons. First, Turkey was not included in the formulation of the plan in any capacity, and, as echoed by one Turkish newspaper, it is regarded as the “devil's plan” – a formula Turkey is unlikely to support. And second, Turkey perceives itself to a great extent as protector of the Palestinians and the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Israel and the West. From a Turkish standpoint, the U.S. is likely to let Israel keep its control over Jerusalem and the occupation in the West Bank – both of them outcomes that Turkey rejects.
Turkey is not pleased with the cooperation of some of the Arab countries – especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia – with the Trump administration in this context. There is great tension between Turkey and Egypt since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power at the expense of Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013, and with Saudi Arabia following the latter’s boycott on Qatar, since 2017. Turkey strongly criticized what it called the muted response of these two countries to the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, and the violent events that took place in Gaza in its aftermath.
Regional trends reflected in the deterioration of the relationship between Israel and Turkey and between Turkey and Egypt, as well as its complex relations with the Gulf states, are among the main explanations as to why Turkey was pushed aside from the peace process. However, Ankara was also not a significant actor in previous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
How can Turkey contribute to promoting the peace plan?
It is unlikely that Turkey will act to promote Trump’s peace plan. Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, and perhaps even before, Ankara has been continuously insisting that there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not include Hamas. It is very unlikely that the peace plan promoted by the Trump administration will appeal to Hamas, or reserve a role for the organization in the future Palestinian state. Turkey would rather see a reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority before a peace process with Israel is finalized, and believes that it can persuade Hamas to soften its hawkish stance and hostility towards normalization with Israel. So far, however, Turkey's achievements, especially in promoting the reconciliation in the Palestinian arena, are limited.
Which obstacles is Tוurkey liable to mount, and how can it sabotage the process?
Turkey protested loudly to the American embassy’s move to Jerusalem, not only by expressing its objection but also by utilizing opposition to the move in international organizations. It can erode international support for Trump’s peace plan by calling it out as biased towards Israel, and as disregarding Palestinian and Muslim interests.
Strong opposition on Ankara's part could swing public opinion in Arab and Muslim countries against Trump's plan. A stronger Turkish involvement in East Jerusalem could, to a small yet considerable extent, create difficulties in accepting the plan in the context of the solution to the Jerusalem issue. If the peace plan does not bring about a fundamental change in the situation in the Gaza Strip, Turkey may also emphasize this aspect as means to disrupt the plan.
Dr. Gallia Lindenstrauss is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), and a guest researcher at the Bipartisan Policy Center in the United States. She is currently completing a book on Israel-Turkey relations, from the Marmara to the Normalization agreement.