Turkey to maintain Israel relations amid concerns over Netanyahu election win

Former prime minister is set to return with one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israel's history

Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli prime minister and the head of Likud party. AFP
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Turkey said on Thursday that it wished to maintain relations with Israel regardless of the election outcome as concerns were voiced in neighbouring Arab countries over Benjamin Netanyahu's probable return to power.

Early polls on Thursday morning suggested the former prime minister was set to be elected.

"Whatever the election result, we want to maintain relations with Israel on a sustainable basis, based on mutual respect for sensitivities and common interests," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish broadcaster ATV.

The comments follows a thaw in long-strained relations between Turkey and Israel.

This year, Israeli President Isaac Herzog travelled to Ankara in the first visit to Turkey by an Israeli leader since 2008.

Mr Netanyahu appears likely to gain power with one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israel's history, raising concerns among Palestinians and some Arab states.

Relations between Israel and Turkey had been strained for more than a decade, with Ankara having expelled Israel's ambassador following a 2010 Israeli raid on an aid ship to Gaza that killed 10 Turkish citizens.

Diplomatic relations were restored in 2016, but two years later Turkey recalled its diplomats from Israel and expelled Israeli envoys when Israeli forces killed several Palestinians who took part in protests in Gaza.

Reactions from the Middle East

Mr Netanyahu has threatened to "neutralise" a US-brokered maritime deal with Lebanon, which still considers itself to be at war with Israel.

But Beirut says it has received assurances from Washington that the agreement will not be scrapped.

"We're not afraid of a change in the authorities in Israel. Whether Netanyahu wins or someone else, no one can stand in the way of this [deal]," Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Reuters.

He said US guarantees would protect the border deal despite opposition from Mr Netanyahu, who has said it could benefit the militant group Hezbollah.

"Israel cannot go too far against US wishes because it needs US protection, and therefore it is unlikely that a Netanyahu-led government will tear up the US-brokered maritime border agreement ... despite Netanyahu's strong rhetoric," said Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the Chatham House think tank in London.

Leaders at the Arab League summit in Algiers repeated their support for a Palestinian state.

Mr Netanyahu, whose policies towards Palestinians have angered many in the Arab world since he first came to power 26 years ago, pledged that a government under his leadership would act responsibly, avoid "unnecessary adventures" and "expand the circle of peace".

But in Jordan, home to millions of Palestinian refugees and their families, his expected triumph caused concern.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated under Mr Netanyahu's previous spell as prime minister and King Abdullah II terminated part of a 1994 peace deal that allowed Israel the use of two areas along their border.

"Israeli policy under Netanyahu was confrontational with Jordan's official policy," said Hamad Faraneh, a former deputy in Jordan's Parliament, where a majority of deputies called on the government in April to revoke the peace treaty.

"Jordan is worried more tensions and violence in Palestine would push more displacement and immigration of Palestinians to the kingdom."

Jordan's Islamist opposition urged Arab countries to take a robust stance.

"Today, the Israeli right is talking about expelling Palestinians, they are saying there is no [Palestinian] state, so what is left for Arabs?" said Murad Adailah, secretary general of Jordan's Islamic Action Front.

"What's required of these Arab countries is to depend on their people and support the resistance of the Palestinians."

Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel and a mediator during the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, was likely to find a way to work with Mr Netanyahu again, said HA Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a columnist for The National.

Mr Netanyahu "has been terrible for even the semblance of a peace process that Egypt officially upholds", he said. "But they have dealt with him and they will deal with him again."

Updated: November 03, 2022, 9:46 AM