A group of students from Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey met on Monday with Knesset Members Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid) and David Tsur (Hatenua) at the Israeli parliament.
MK Tsur praised the visit, saying he views any such initiative as being very positive in light of the fact that ”it is no secret that the relations between Israel and Turkey are currently not a `paradise`.”
MK Tsur mentioned to the graduate and PhD students that he was born in Istanbul, and was therefore very moved when he visited the city some two months ago to attend a conference. The lawmaker said that during his visit he told Turkish media outlets that Israel and Turkey`s mutual interests in the region are ”stronger than politics” and that ”we should end the dispute which is on the table as quickly as possible.”
Relations between Turkey and Israel became strained in May 2010 when nine Turkish citizens were killed during an IDF raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel which was trying to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Reconciliation talks between Jerusalem and Ankara began after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to apologize to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the request of US President Barack Obama in March 2013.
Turkey, MK Tsur argued, can play a major role in advancing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors – including the Palestinians, the Arab states and even Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – adding that he was surprised to learn that the Marmara crisis had not damaged the commercial and economic relations between Israel and Turkey. However, MK Tsur said, security-related cooperation is ”frozen.”
MK Tsur told the students that the Knesset`s summer session will focus on two main issues: Electing a new president and deciding whether or not to continue the peace negotiations with the Palestinians – ”if anything is left of them.”
”There is a paradox in Israeli politics,” MK Tsur said. ”The majority of the people, and also the majority of the members of Knesset, are in favor of a two-state solution and moving forward, but in the coalition there are many forces which are holding (this process back), and we can`t move forward with this process.”
In any future agreement with the Palestinians, MK Tsur said, ”we will have to separate. They will have their land and country – there is going to be a state of Palestine, which will have to be connected to Gaza in one way or another. The borders will probably be around the 1967 lines, with a swap of land – adjusted to the fact that there are large Jewish settlements in some of the areas.”
According to Tsur, ”most of the issues can be solved…The main problem is the lack of trust between the two leaders, and also the people.” The MK told the Turkish students about his recent trip to Northern Ireland, during which he and other Israeli lawmakers met with top officials who were involved in the historic agreement between the Catholics and the Protestants. ”It was very interesting to hear from them how they solved a 400-year conflict…Our conflict has been going on for 100 years, so we have time,” MK Tsur said in jest.
The Knesset`s political advisor, Oded Ben-Hur, told the Turkish students that Israeli author Amos Oz compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a relationship between a man and a woman. Oz said Israel is not looking for a ”honeymoon” in its relations with the Palestinians, but rather for a ”decent divorce.”
Ben-Hur said the goal is to ”separate for a while, because there is not a lot of trust” between Israel and the Palestinians. ”In this case, it will be a very unique divorce, because usually in a divorce either he or she leaves the house, but in this case we are going to stay in the same house, sharing the same small piece of land, the same water, the same air, the same access to the sea; so it`s like a couple that divorces but remains in the house,” he said.
During his meeting with the Turkish students, MK Hoffman also said the Israeli public, as well as the majority of Knesset members, support the two-state solution. ”The main debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pertains to the main fear: Can we trust the other side to be serious and honest about reaching an agreement with us,” he said.
MK Hoffman, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, mentioned that Israel has been the target of frequent rocket and missile attacks from Gaza since withdrawing from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave in 2005.
”So, many Israelis feel that maybe it`s not about the occupation; maybe it`s just the basic idea of the existence of Israel in the Middle East, which Hamas and maybe even the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) will never accept,” he told the Turkish students.
”The main question is: How can we rebuild mutual trust? How can we once again sit at a table with partners who we feel stand behind their words? Of course I am aware of the fact that the Palestinians feel the same way towards us, because they see that during the negotiations there is building in the settlements; so of course they think to themselves: `We cannot trust the Israelis.` So, I believe the solution to this vicious cycle is to create trust between the two sides,” MK Hoffman stated.
”One thing which can really help is to get other players in the Middle East and in the Muslim world to participate and create together a coalition of peace (that will negotiate with Israel). The context of the whole issue should be regional rather than bilateral.”
Asked by Professor Burak Kuntay about the ”rollercoaster” in Israeli politics, whereby parties frequently rise and fall and politicians move from party to party, MK Hoffman explained that in the past the differences between the Right and Left were clear: The Right supported capitalism and was hawkish in its stance on peace and security, while the socialist Left was in favor of returning territories in exchange for peace. ”Now it is vague; it is not clear what is right-wing and what is left-wing; the two extremes are gravitating towards the center,” Hoffman said. ”Today it is clear that a (peace) process is needed in order to achieve security…So it`s not peace or security; it`s security through peace. Also, many important segments of the Israeli economy were privatized, so now we have a mixture of capitalism and socialism in our system – everywhere.
”This enables politicians to jump from one party to another without changing ideologies. The political system has become much more personal than ideological,” the Yesh Atid member explained to the Turkish delegation, which also consisted of Bahcesehir University`s president and vice-president.
Asked about Israel`s insistence on defining itself as a Jewish state, despite drawing criticism from the international community, MK Hoffman said: ”The difference between an Israeli state and a Jewish state lies first of all in the interpretation. Let me try to explain the interpretation. It`s not my opinion, but it is the interpretation. A `State of Israel` can also mean a state for all different nationalities that live in this land called `Israel` – Jews, Muslims, Christians and maybe even others. It can be, according to one interpretation, a state for many nationalities. A `Jewish state` means that it is the state of the Jewish people with equal rights for minorities, but it is first and foremost a state for the Jewish people.
”It seems as though we can move forward with the peace process without agreeing on an interpretation. But the problem has to do with the practical consequences and results once we will have to implement a future peace agreement, because if it is not a Jewish state, and if there is no clear commitment by the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, then at some point, when we will discuss the core issues, the Palestinians will demand that the refuges come back into Israel, because if Israel is not a Jewish state, then Palestinian refugees from all over the world – millions of refugees – the Palestinians will demand that they come back into Israel,” Hoffman said.
”If this will happen, it will actually change the demographics of the state, and the Jews will never be able to be a majority again in their home.”