Turkish Elections: What's Next for Israel?

Two experts on Israel's relationship with Ankara predict little will change after the Turkish elections - but there still is reason to hope.

Tova Dvorin ,

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey holds its national elections on Sunday, with many predicting another win for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

To gain some perspective on the elections - and how they may affect Israel - Arutz Sheva spoke with Dr. Efrat Aviv, the Begin-Sadat Center (BESA)'s expert on Turkish affairs, and Prof. Efraim Inbar, the center's expert on Israeli-Turkish relations. 

Regarding the election outcome itself, both experts also believe that Erdogan is poised to win again - or at least be the largest party in the Turkish government. 

Prof. Inbar noted that, in his view, no change is on the horizon.

"AKP will always be the largest party," he said, adding that Erdogan is "very popular" among the voting public. 

Dr. Aviv elaborated that the lack of change is due to the current structure and status of AKP within the Turkish political system. 

"According to Article 175 of the Turkish Constitution, draft proposals to change the Constitution can only be accepted with 3/5 majority of the total number of seats in Parliament," she explained. "The AKP needs 376 seats out of 550 seats to approve a new Constitution on its own."

"Right now, they hold 326 seats, requiring it to seek agreement for such a change from other parties. Less than that will require a referendum," she continued. "If AKP receives 276, it will be adequate to form an AKP government in case they would like to give up on the Constitution amendment (into a presidential system) - but this unlikely to happen, as Erdogan is eager to adopt the American-style presidential system."

Public opinion

When asked whether the results could sway Turkish public opinion about Israel, Dr. Aviv was less than optimistic. 

"Unfortunately, the damage has been done," she stated. "The Mavi Marmara incident, for instance, or even the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a consensus in Turkey."

"It means that Israel is depicted as a colonialist, cruel, oppressive country by all sides of the political-ideological spectrum in Turkey much thanks to Erdogan and AKP, thus I do not expect any change in Turkish public opinion toward Israel."

She did predict, however, a slight softening in the event Erdogan either stops his remarks or is replaced with a more moderate leader, in which case, "Israel has a better chance to be depicted in a brighter light in the eyes of the Turks (at least those who are not radical Islamists and radical leftists)." 

Israel-Turkey status quo

"Except for Erdogan's comment two weeks ago regarding the march to Jerusalem and some other assertions that the other parties are puppets of  'foreign powers' which constantly intervene in Turkish domestic politics (i.e Israel, Jewish lobby, USA Europe), Israel has not been too often mentioned during this election campaign," Dr. Aviv noted. "If AKP wins less than 376 seats, the same relations between Israel and Turkey which we have witnessed so far will continue." 

Dr. Aviv did predict a change, however, in the event AKP forms a coalition with the HDP party. 

"HDP hasn't mentioned Israel by far and though it is a leftist party (which embraces other ideologies as well), it is also pro-Kurdish," she noted. "In other words, we have not heard of any reference against or for Israel from HDP and it might be a good sign. So there is a slight chance for sort of a positive change."

Overall, however, the results will not likely affect Israel's interests in maintaining a diplomatic relationship with Ankara. 

"I believe that Israel is interested in a rapprochement with Turkey no matter who wins the elections," Dr. Aviv said. "From the Israeli point of view, Turkey will still remain a key important country."

"Israel refuses to take part in domestic Turkish politics despite the ongoing accusations and keep silent even when it is roughly slammed by Turkish politicians," she added. "Needless to note this will be much easier to be done with parties/leaders who are not part of AKP." 

Prof. Inbar, meanwhile, summarized the situation more simply. 

"Israel wants to have diplomatic relations with Turkey, but they don't want to have them with us," he said.