A Lesson from Turkey: Raise Your Profile in International Negotiations

Impartiality and the perception of bias during international negotiations

By PON Staffon / 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.