Israel and Turkey need to find a way to restore the important relationship they once had, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a delegation of senior Turkish print journalists he met earlier this week.

The Prime Minister’s Office put out a short statement about the meeting on Tuesday, to coincide with reports of the meeting in the Turkish media, saying that Netanyahu said both Turkey and Israel were “important, strong and stable” countries in an unstable region.

“Turks and Israelis have a relationship that goes back a long way,” he said. “Turkey and Israel have relations that go back a long way. We need to find ways to restore the relationship that we had, because I think it is important for each of our countries.”

Netanyahu stressed this was especially important now – at a time of regional instability.

According to a report of the meeting posted Tuesday evening on the website of the Today’s Zaman daily, which had a reporter in the delegation, Netanyahu said that the close ties that Israel has developed over the last few years with Greece and Cyprus – Turkey’s historic rivals – happened coincidentally, and had nothing to do with the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish ties.

While this was not the first group of Turkish journalists to visit the country since the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident that plunged relations between Jerusalem and Ankara into a downward spiral, it was the first to meet the country’s senior leadership.

Netanyahu met the group in the conference room just outside his inner office, which was decorated with an Israeli and a Turkish flag.

One diplomatic official said that the reason the delegation was invited was because Israel is interested in reaching out to the Turkish people, to let them know that the relationship is important to Jerusalem.

Israel’s ties with Turkey, which peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s, started to gradually deteriorate soon after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept into power in 2002.

The deterioration was felt at first primarily by much more critical rhetoric toward Israel and its policies coming from Ankara, even though Turkey served a role – which it coveted – as mediator in indirect contacts between Syria and Israel.

The ties plummeted with Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and Erdogan’s verbal attack on President Shimon Peres at Davos just after the operation, followed by his dramatic act of storming off the stage. Relations sank even further in May 2010 after Israeli commandoes trying to stop the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara from breaking the Gaza blockade boarded the vessel and – after they came under assault – killed nine Turks.



Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador a year later when Israel refused to meet its demands: apologize for the incident, pay compensation to the families of the victims and to those injured, and lift the blockade of Gaza.

While Israel was willing to pay compensation, it refused to apologize or allow Ankara to dictate its policy regarding the Gaza blockade.

On Sunday the delegation met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has come out adamantly against issuing an apology to Ankara.

According to Israeli officials, Liberman told the group that Israel did not need to apologize for an action he said was a deliberate Turkish provocation, but that there was a need for the countries to get over the incident.

Liberman said Israel was willing to talk about everything, and put all the differences between Ankara and Jerusalem on the table in order to try and resolve them. He also said that he was rebuffed in previous efforts to set up a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Davutoglu, he cited Russian diplomats as telling him, does not like Israel and it would be impossible to set up a meeting with him.

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