Israeli-Turkish talks in NY fail to find way to end crisis

Talks continue, despite harsh disagreement over 'Marmara' apology; PM says legitimacy of Gaza blockade needs to be acknowledged.

July 6, 2011 23:10
4 minute read.
The 'Mavi Marmara' in port

Mavi Marmara in port 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman locked horns with his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday over the issue of an Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara affair, with Lieberman saying an apology was not in the offing, and Ahmet Davutoglu demanding it as a condition for a resumption of normal ties.

“As far as we’re concerned, there is no reason to apologize,” Lieberman said in a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on Wednesday. “Turkey wants to give the impression that they can dictate terms, and we’ll accept them as if they’re a superpower. It’s a matter of honor to them.”

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The foreign minister told the Knesset committee that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has a desire to turn Turkey into a regional superpower with international influence.”

Lieberman’s comments came as Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon was reportedly on his way back to Israel from New York, where he was trying to work out a formula with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu to put an end to the Mavi Marmara affair before the Palmer Commission (the UN commission charged with investigating the incident) released its findings.

The committee – which is headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and co-chaired by former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, and includes an Israeli representative, Joseph Ciechanover, and a Turkish official, Ozden Sanberk – was scheduled to issue its report on Thursday.

The sides, according to officials, were unable to come up with a formula by the deadline. As a result, German Ambassador to the UN Peter Wittig, who is currently the president of the Security Council, said at a press conference Wednesday he had no knowledge about when the report would be completed.

“I don’t think we are yet at the point where the report would be handed over – when that happens obviously we’ll let you know,” he said.

The outlines of the report have been known for weeks: that Israel’s naval blockade was legal and the country acted within its rights in stopping the flotilla, but that the IDF used “excessive” force in the incident in which nine Turks were killed after attacking soldiers who landed on the boat to enforce the blockade.

Turkey is asking that Israel pay compensation to the families of those killed, and apologize for the incident.

While Israel has agreed to pay compensation – on condition that it goes into a government fund and not directly to the families of those who attacked IDF soldiers, and that there will be no further claims against the soldiers – Jerusalem has refused to apologize, saying it will instead express regret at the loss of life.

Israel, for its part, is reportedly asking the Turks to commit not to break the Gaza blockade, and issue some kind of clarification about the unacceptability of attacking IDF soldiers.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday in Bucharest at a press conference with his Romanian counterpart Emil Boc, said Israel was interested in good relations with Turkey.

“We are not the ones who led to a deterioration of the ties,” he said. “We are interested and open to finding ways to improve the relations. We noticed that Turkey did not take part in the latest flotilla, and we also noticed other signs that are perhaps enabling other attempts at bringing us together.”

Netanyahu said Israel had two clear interests: to enforce the blockade of the Gaza Strip to prevent the smuggling of arms and ammunitions to terrorists, and to protect its own soldiers.

“We are interested in improving relations with Turkey, and we are trying to maintain the interests I enumerated. Now the effort is to get these goals to meet. Until now, we have not succeeded, but we are still trying.”

Netanyahu said it was important that the formula reached will include the recognition of the legality of the blockade, and the protection of IDF soldiers.

Lieberman, speaking to reporters after the closed-door Knesset committee meeting, said “an apology is not a compromise – it is a humiliation and an abandonment of IDF soldiers. We regret the loss of life of people from any nation. There are things we can discuss [with Turkey] and things we cannot. We cannot discuss things that will harm Israel.

“National honor has a real significance. We expect flexibility on the Turkish side, as well,” Lieberman added. “We have no reason for friction with Turkey. We are willing to make compromises, but we are not willing to accept dictates, and we are not willing to abandon IDF soldiers.”

Gil Shefler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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