Turkey will never forget the nine Turkish men killed when Israeli troops stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, days before the submission of a UN report on the raid last year.
In a speech to a conference of foreign ambassadors to the Palestinian territories in Istanbul, Erdogan condemned the continuing blockade of Gaza as “illegal and inhuman,” and said the Palestinians’ troubles were Turkey’s troubles, and would not go neglected.
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Erdogan opened his speech by naming each of the men killed in the raid on the Mavi Marmara ferry, which led the activists’ flotilla.
“We have not forgotten, nor will we forget, the selfsacrifice of our brothers, their memories and the massacre they were subjected to,” he said.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel after the incident in May 2010, suspended military cooperation, and closed its airspace to Israeli military aircraft.
It wants Israel to apologize for the killings, pay compensation to the families, and end the embargo of Gaza.
Israel has agreed in principle to pay compensation, but said its commandos acted in self-defense after an initial boarding party was attacked with knives and clubs.
It said the blockade is justified to prevent arms smugglers ferrying weapons to Hamas.
Erdogan added the condition of lifting the blockade of Gaza – in addition to apologizing and paying compensation – during a speech two weeks ago to the Turkish parliament, something that was seen in Jerusalem as an additional element complicating efforts to find a resolution to the issue. It has also left a feeling among some in Jerusalem that Erdogan is not interested in bringing this issue to closure.
One government source said on Saturday night that within a framework of an overall deal, Israel was willing to show “flexibility and creativity.”
But, the official said, there has to be “goodwill” on both sides. A prevalent sense in Jerusalem is that the latest condition of lifting the blockade – something that is not a bilateral Turkish-Israeli issue – shows a lack of will to find a solution on the Turkish side.
One of the “creative” ideas that have been bandied about regarding an apology was for Israel to apologize for isolated “operational mishaps,” but not for the entire operation.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday blasted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for reports that he was considering even a limited apology.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said, however, that Netanyahu has never expressed a willingness to apologize to the Turks.
The United States would like its two allies to be friends again. But even if they reach closure on the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause – and readiness to engage Hamas – will mean the relationship will not be free of tension.
“We must find a solution to the Israel-Palestinian issue on the basis of a two-state model. East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state is what we desire,” Erdogan told the conference.
He also called for a stop to Jewish settlement activities, which he said were the greatest obstacle to the peace process.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas thanked Turkey for its support in his address to the conference.
Turkey’s ties with Israel hit a nadir over the Mavi Marmara incident, but they first soured after Erdogan’s public criticism of President Shimon Peres over an Israeli offensive in Gaza in 2009.
That outburst made Erdogan a hero on the Arab street, and brought Turkey newfound respect in the region.
So far, the UN report into the Mavi Marmara has been signed only by the commission’s chairman, Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand, and vice chairman Alvaro Uribe, a former president of Colombia.
Whether panelists from Israel and Turkey sign depends on bilateral contacts to resolve differences before the report is submitted.