Will Turkey bring Syria and Israel back to the table? Doubtful

Will Turkey bring Syria and Israel back to the table? Doubtful

Syria is ready to resume peace negotiations with Israel, but only if Turkey acts as the intermediary. Let’s see how that works out.

AFP reports:

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Sunday that only Turkey can act as an intermediary in any indirect peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.

"Turkey has shown itself to be an honest intermediary. Indirect talks must therefore be under Turkish mediation, and begin in Turkey at the point where they stopped" in December 2008 when Israel attacked the Gaza Strip, he said.

He ruled out any country other than Turkey being involved in indirect talks, telling reporters: "Any efforts by other parties will consist of helping the Turkish role."

Turkey mediated between Israel and Syria before, starting in May 2008. Those talks broke down in December after Israel began Operation Cast Lead, the assault on Gaza that enraged much of the Muslim world — including Turkey.

Even after the break down in talks, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert publicly stated that Turkey was a "fair" mediator.

But relations between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated considerably since December 2008. The biggest flare-up, of course, was when Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish activists (and one Turkish-American) on their way to Gaza in May. Even before that, though, the current Israeli government didn’t look like it would too happy to have Turkey as a mediator. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a year ago that it would be impossible for Turkey to act as an honest broker.

There hasn’t yet been any response from the Israeli government to the news out of this weekend’s Syria-Turkey meeting, but don’t expect any encouragement.

It’s worth adding some additional pessimism to all of this. Even when the Turkish mediated negotiations were going well, the closest Damascus and Tel Aviv ever came to success was nearing an agreement to sit down for direct talks. Once that happened, who knows how far those negotiations would have gone, but probably not far. Syria remains, at least rhetorically, committed to getting the Golan Heights back from Israel, which has been occupying the territory since 1967. Netanyahu has said unequivocally that Israel "will never withdraw from the Golan," as has his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on the precipice of collapse after only a month, it’s hard to imagine why anyone else in the region would choose to sign up for more ill-fated negotiations.