A Lesson from Turkey: Raise Your Profile in International Negotiations

Impartiality and the perception of bias during international negotiations

By — on / International Negotiation

international negotiations

Negotiators seek to raise their stature and increase their influence in international negotiations and other realms by serving as mediators and peacekeepers when conflicts emerge. To do so, they need to cultivate a reputation for impartiality or, at the very least, a willingness to listen to both sides.

Show bias toward one party, and the other side will shun your attempt at assistance. This is the script that has played out in the realm of international negotiations, as Turkey found itself sidelined as a potential mediator in the conflict that flared up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Turkey’s Past Role as Mediator

In the past, the West and the United States relied on Turkey as an effective mediator in the Middle East peace process, writes Tim Arango in the the New York Times. But tensions between Turkey and Israel erupted back in 2010, after several Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish ship delivering aid to Gaza, which has been under an economic blockade.

Turkey sought to raise its stature in the Middle East as a harsh critic of Israel and a defender of Palestinian rights. This position succeeded in earning Turkey influence among Arab nations, but left the Turkish government “with little leverage” to play a role in negotiating peace in Gaza, writes Arango.

Being left out in the cold is a problem for Turkey, given that its foreign policy has “but one premise, to become a regional actor,” Turkey expert Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told Arango. By strengthening its leadership role among Arab nations, Ankara alienated Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

As the Gaza crisis escalated, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at first stayed silent, then stated that Turkey had no intention of engaging in direct talks with Israel, its former ally. At an Islamic conference, he sealed his anti-Israel stance by referring to Israel as a “terrorist state” and accusing the nation of “ethnic cleansing.”

Meanwhile, Egypt’s inexperienced new president, Mohamed Morsi, took the mantle as the Islamic nation leading diplomatic efforts to bring peace to Gaza. Turkey was left “with a position to support what Egypt foresees, but nothing more,” professor Ersin Kalaycioglu of Istanbul’s Sabanici University told Arango.

Would-be mediators and power-brokers can learn from Turkey’s mistakes. Erdogan’s efforts to win over the Islamic world through anti-Israeli rhetoric worked against his goal of raising Turkey’s profile as a Middle East mediator. In international negotiations and beyond, analyze how your goals potentially interact and contradict, and aim for a consistent stance in your relations with groups you are trying to woo.

Share your stories of international negotiation in the comments.

Originally published in 2013.

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4 Responses to “A Lesson from Turkey: Raise Your Profile in International Negotiations”

  • Barea B.

    Thank you Keith for sharing this theoretical opinion with us. I strongly agree with the author that a mediator should be impartial. I have few points I would like to add to this article:
    1- Just like we, as mediators, have our limitations as to the confidentiality of the mediation process, so does Turkey when it sees violations of human rights. What applies in community mediation also apply to state mediation. Turkey’s termination of the mediation was in line with every mediation rule in a textbook.
    2- Turkey indeed was not an equidistant mediator from both parties in the past. Turkey has long been Israel military partner without ties to Palestinians. We cannot forget that there was a time Palestinians allied themselves to Hezbollah in order to gain legitimacy and power. When Turkey repositioned itself equidistant from both parties, Israel viewed Turkey’s strategy as unfair.
    3- Turkey had no appetite to enter the mediation. It is too far fetched to say it was alienated. As a result, Israel was left with the only unfortunate option to deal with the brotherhood of Egypt whose agenda is clearly anti-Israeli. We all heard the brotherhood views about Israel lately in the news.
    4- Turkey is a secular state with a majority of Muslims. Turkey is not Arab. Turkey is very well suited to play a mediation role between Arab states and Israel. It is unfortunate we cannot go to the core of our interest and we prefer to remain attached to our positions.

  • Ajayi o.

    Your programs are of invaluable assistant to me in my Masters Program in Peace and Strategic Studies @ the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. Please keep it up.

  • First, let me say thank you for this thoughtful article. I am not however certain on what Turkey (or for that matter, any country) stands to gain as being viewed as the ‘Mediator’?

  • Very interesting article on international negotiation. I took a college course on International conflict resolution and negotiation and we read several articles from here and the articles are written well due to being short but applies both the theories with real like application, which I always liked. Keep up with the great work.


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