Turkish-Israeli ties can only be restored if Israel apologizes for its raid on
the Gaza flotilla, compensates its victims and ends the Gaza blockade, Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, putting a damper on hopes
of a reconciliation between the two countries.
“As long as Israel does
not apologize, does not pay compensation [for the nine deaths] and does not lift
the embargo on Palestine [Gaza], it is not possible for Turkish-Israeli ties to
improve,” he said.
Israel-Turkey relations and the silent revolution
Lieberman: Apology to Turkey will broadcast weakness
He spoke amid media reports that Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu had rejected a demand by US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton to apologize to Turkey for the death of nine Turkish activists last year
during an IDF raid on the Gazabound ship Mavi Marmara.
According to the
reports, Netanyahu told Clinton in a Tuesday night phone call that all Israel
could do was express sorrow for the deaths, but would not formally
Late Wednesday night, the Prime Minister’s Office, which had
been silent on the matter all day, rejected reports that Clinton had pressured
Netanyahu to apologize. It said Israel and the US continue to work together in a
positive manner to repair ties with Turkey.
Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the
US embassy, said Washington wanted Israel and Turkey “to look for opportunities
to get past the current strains in their bilateral relations.”
He did not
comment on the Clinton phone call with Netanyahu.
An Israeli official
told The Jerusalem Post that no government decision had been taken yet regarding
a formal apology to Turkey.
The government is looking at different
options on how a decision regarding an apology impacts the relationship with
Turkey, neighboring countries and US interests in the region, the official
In response to the media reports, both Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke Wednesday against
apologizing to Turkey.
Lieberman praised Netanyahu’s decision not to
apologize even though he said it had come too late.
“It made us look
indecisive and it also gave false hope to some of our friends,” he
Ya’alon said an apology would be a strategic mistake that would not
restore relations with Turkey – particularly given that the ties were
deteriorating even before the Marmara incident.
While relations with
Turkey are of great importance, Ya’alon said it was absurd on Israel’s part to
apologize for an act of violence that Turkey itself had provoked.
warned that such an apology would send the wrong message to Israeli soldiers who
were defending their lives on board the ship, and it would make Israel appear
weak in Turkey’s eyes.
As evidence of the depth of tensions between the
two countries, the Foreign Ministry has no plans to replace its ambassador to
Turkey, Gabby Levy, when he retires in September.
spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday that Israel feared Turkey would reject
any new ambassador it sent.
“We need to know that they are going to
accept him [a new ambassador].
The concern is that they would not accept
him,” said Palmor, who noted there has not been a Turkish ambassador in Israel
for over a year.
He said he did not believe it was possible for Israel to
send an ambassador to Turkey until ties between the two countries
Erdogan’s comments and news of the looming absence of an
Israeli ambassador in Turkey comes as the UN prepares to release the Palmer
Report on the Marmara incident, possibly next week.
committee, which began investigating the incident, is led by Sir Geoffrey
Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand. It has three others members,
including former Columbian president Alvaro Uribe, Joseph Ciechanover of Israel
and Ozdem Sanberk of Turkey.
Although the report has not yet been
formally presented to UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, Israeli officials have
seen a draft version, which they say vindicates the legality of their actions by
stating the maritime blockade of Gaza is illegal and the IDF had a right to
board the flotilla in May 2010.
The report, however, according to
Israelis, does criticize the behavior of the IDF aboard the ship.
hope had been that the report would help mend ties between the two countries and
there is some speculation that the report’s release has been delayed pending a
reconciliation between Turkey and Israel.
Turkey has said it would not
accept such a report that does not include an apology from Israel.
the Palmer Report does not contain an apology, both sides and the United States
know what we will do,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news
conference in Istanbul, without elaborating.
“Israel is facing a choice:
deeper relations with Turkey, or open a gap with the Turkish state that will not
be overcome very easily,” he said.Reuters contributed to this report.