Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all and especially our guests from Israel.
Your presence here today, like this conference itself, is important. It is a sign that the search for dialogue and cooperation between our two countries continues which is, of course, important for all of us.
The Turkish Israeli relations is one of the most important topics of the current international agenda. The nature and future shape of these relations would inevitably shape our region as well as the dynamics and the balance of power in it.
Keeping this in mind, we need to uphold the longstanding links that we have. We have a common heritage of peace, cooperation, and friendship. It is our task to try and defend it.
If we can do so, the prospects for peace and a settlement in the Middle East will brighten.
If they do not, then I think we will still have to deal with each other but in an atmosphere of recrimination and missed opportunities.
This morning we have a challenging but fascinating issue before us, but we are pleased to have distinguished speakers here today who are eminently qualified for this work to deal with this challenge.
Turkey and Israel are going through a difficult patch.
Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Israel after its independence. In the decades that followed, we maintained relations although it was not an easy ride all the time; we had occasionally bumps on the road.
I dont want to dwell upon too much on the reasons of the previous difficulties, since I believe that we need to focus on the period ahead.
But to focus on the future we have to understand the reasons of todays estrangement.
So what has gone wrong in our bilateral relations?
There are many things that can be said and perhaps many conflicting perspectives on this. So I will make only a few points here.
The first is that it would be wrong for observers in Israel to assume that there has been a deep shift in Turkeys foreign policy in recent years. Despite our friendship with Israel, people in Turkey of all shades of opinion have always been deeply concerned with the plight of the Palestinians. Indeed it is something that is now poisoning the region as a whole including Turkish-Israeli relations. If people are deprived of the rights and the prosperity which citizens of the modern world take for granted, it is inevitable that there will be an unpleasant downwards spiral as they become radicalised and increasingly antagonist.
It is easy to push that spiral downwards and very hard to reverse it. What is more, we now live in a transparent world one in which television viewers across the world can see what it is like to live in Gaza or the West bank and messages then travel to the rest of the global community. There are the perils of isolation and the psychological climate it produces.
Isolation too is one of those processes which tends to spiral downwards and become more intractable.
I have the impression that for a long while the potentialities and realities of Turkey were not appreciated as much as they might have been in Israel. Perhaps that is why we saw a Turkish ambassador humiliated on Israeli television last January and why the tragic events of 31 May took place.
I have no doubt that The Turkish-Israeli relationship will carry on. As a former career diplomat who visited Israel many times in the course of my professional life, and still has good friends there, I perceive this very directly. Good working relations between us are something that is good for the region. But good working relations in turn depend on mutual trust. Over many years, both in public and behind the scenes Turkey made great efforts to make life easier for Israel in a difficult environment by working hard on all tracks of the Middle East Peace Process.
We have come very close, in December 2008, to unlock one of the acute problems of the Middle East. Yet, Israel made a different choice.
I cannot keep myself from asking the same question over and over again. What if; what if Israel had made peace with Syria, instead of attacking Gaza?
I listened to a very lucid speech by our Foreign Minister, Mr Davutoğlu, in Istanbul last week at a conference in which he made it clear that he feels that until the Gaza operation of December 2008 January 2009, he personally (and thus our government) felt that they were on good terms with Israel and working constructively together with it, for peace in the Middle East. It was at that point, because of the unexpected events which took place then and the large causalities involved, that bilateral relations between Turkey and Israeli took a downward turn. I did not speak to him so I have no precise idea of what he intended but I took this to indicate that in his mind --and therefore that of his colleagues-- the situation before December 2008 was an instance of how Turkish-Israeli relations were at their best, and so perhaps, we could still return to something like that.
But to get there we have to leave behind the deadly attack to the humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza as it was a traumatic point in time for the Turkish public opinion in its entirety. The fact that Turkish citizens being killed by Israeli soldiers in international waters were not only unacceptable but also unprecedented.
I am sure that you would understand if I dont speak more about this tragic attack, since I am a member of the Panel of Inquiry established by the UN Secretary General to investigate this very incident. We are working constructively at the UN and we have a gentlemans agerremnet not to disclose the content of our work until Israel submits its report to the Panel. Turkey has presented its interim Report to the Secretary General on 15 September. I would only like to reiterate here what has already been repeated several times by us her in Turkey at all levels that, to settle this matter an apology and compensation from Israel to the families of those who were killed and injured is something that Turkey and its people cannot but expect from Israel.
I mentioned these points in order not to initiate a blame game, but to remind those in Israel who prefer to hold the Government in Turkey responsible for the difficulties we are currently facing in our relations. Lets not forget that it has been the same Government since 2002 which fostered relations further with Israel and embarked upon ambitious peace projects with it.
There has been much talk of new directions in Turkish foreign policy, a shift to the east or at least some distancing from Turkeys traditional western orientation. Turkey is a country which is very rapidly changing. Turkeys GDP is now of around 8 to 900 billion US dollars, we are the 15th largest economy in the world and the 6th largest in Europe, the largest in the Middle East. Despite the global financial crisis, Turkey maintains its high economic growth. In 2010 the growth rate is expected to be 7 or 8 percent. It is obviously a regional economic power.
Any change you might observe at its foreign policy is the natural outcome of the new dimensions of its economy and its changing standing in the international league table. I think we need to get used to it, since Turkey is projected to grow faster; to gain bigger global standing and to enrich its options. The perception that Turkey has become involved with its region and a wider zone by forsaking its western orientation is totally misconceived. The reality is that Turkeys dimensions have altered and grown. Our European and American friends, including Israeli friends have to see todays Turkey in its true size.
It is not because Turkeys foreign policy has been expanded and extended that it pays more attention now to its region. Turkey and the public opinion have always been sensitive to the suffering of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights. The impact of the situation in Gaza, not only to the Turkish Israeli relations but also to the image of Israel in the international community should not be underestimated. The sooner the people in Gaza start to enjoy their fundamental rights, the better the position of Israel vis- -vis its counterparts will be.
After all, I believe that this meeting is very timely. It gives us an opportunity to understand the Israeli point of view and Israelis the opportunity to grasp the Turkish point of view.
It is important that all of us seize these opportunities; for be there good times ahead or bad, we need to remain partners in many fundamental respects, not least because we share the same region and all the peoples of the region share the same destiny.
I do not expect miracles at a short conference like this one, but I hope it will play its part in illustrating that the window between our two countries and peoples can be reopened and that the time of missed opportunities can come to an end.
For this, we need to settle the maritime incident as required and leave the tragedy of 31 May behind and tread carefully a fine path.
For the pdf version of the speech,please click here.