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The wide-ranging implications of Turkish, Israeli elections

The past few weeks have witnessed two significant elections in the region. Both Turkey and Israel have been deeply involved in election season, with Turks heading to the polls for municipal elections on March 31 and Israelis casting their votes in national elections on April 9.

The outcomes in both countries, which are at odds with each other, were not only highly significant for their people but also for the regional and global actors that have paid the utmost attention. The election results will have crucial implications on three levels: Domestic, regional and international.

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has been serving as the uninterrupted prime minister since 2009. Netanyahu, who had previously served in the same position between 1996 and 1999, has already become the country’s second-longest-serving PM. David Ben-Gurion, who was Israel’s first prime minister, still holds the record. However, in the aftermath of this week’s elections, Netanyahu wants to continue in office. The election outcome at the domestic level, therefore, is very significant. Who the prime minister will be will also have an important impact on Palestinians, the Israeli-Palestine conflict and Israeli-Arab relations.

The story in Turkey is not much different. Though it only held municipal elections, they ended with a surprising outcome. Although the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power for 17 years, came in first with 45 percent of the nationwide vote, it suffered a severe blow by seemingly losing the two major cities, Ankara and Istanbul. The outcome of the Istanbul election is still contested, as objections have been raised to the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK), which is assigned by the constitution to announce the election results in the coming days.

The results indicated that the majority of the country still appreciates the ruling party’s performance. However, they also show that the efforts of the opposition bloc, headed by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), bore fruit.

Given the fact that there will now be no elections in Turkey until 2023, the consequences of the recent vote on the regional and international levels is noteworthy.

On the regional level, Ankara is likely to continue pursuing policies that prioritize stability and security along its border with Syria. Ankara seeks gradual changes that could bring solutions to the regional conflicts that jeopardize its interests. For this very reason, we are likely to see a proactive role assumed by Turkey in resisting fait accompli situations in the region, such as the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

What impact will the Israeli elections have on the region? It is fair to assume that, with a government under Netanyahu, the already worrisome situation in Gaza will deteriorate. Israel will also continue to target the Iran nuclear deal. In Tel Aviv’s relations with Turkey, it is hard to expect a breakthrough, particularly with the recent Israeli aggression. The two countries agreed to re-establish relations in 2016, but this did not bridge the confidence and trust gap between them. Although Netanyahu was convinced that the Israeli elections would be focused more on national security and the economy rather than foreign policy, it is clear that the next Israeli government will face a busy foreign policy agenda.

On the international level, both countries’ relations with the US play a critical role. In his victory speech, Netanyahu told US President Donald Trump that Israel has never had a better friend than him. However, we cannot say that same thing in Ankara. It is impossible to say that Trump has been the best ever president for Turkey. Washington and its long-time NATO ally Ankara are going through a complete breakdown in their relationship and it is still uncertain when and how the ties will recover.

Alongside the many other factors that have led to the deterioration in US-Turkey ties, the Israeli situation plays a significant role. First, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv. Although Ankara lambasted the US over this policy and brought together the leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to condemn it, Trump has now taken another pro-Israel step and recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria.

Turkey made it clear that it would “do whatever is necessary until the end,” and work with the global community against “one-sided decisions,” which disregard international law. Russia has also condemned Washington’s recent decision. Needless to say, Turkey’s closeness with Russia, both militarily and politically, is another factor that strains the Turkish-American relationship. Trump can expect that any unilateral decisions taken in favor of Israel will be harshly received by the Turkish government, which, for now, seems happy to continue cooperating with Russia and Iran on regional and international issues.
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