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Netanyahu sends congratulatory letter to Erdogan
By HERB KEINON
06/22/2011
Gesture on Turkish PM’s reelection seen as effort to reach out to Ankara to repair severely damaged relationship by last year’s flotilla raid.
 
In the latest in a series of baby steps Israel and Turkey are taking toward one another in efforts to repair the relationship severely damaged by last year’s Mavi Marmara raid, it was revealed Tuesday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a congratulatory letter to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after his reelection victory 10 days ago.

“My government will be happy to work with the new Turkish government on finding a resolution to all outstanding issues between our countries, in the hope of reestablishing our cooperation and renewing the spirit of friendship which has characterized the relations between our peoples for many generations,” Netanyahu wrote, according to a report on the Turkish Today’s Zaman website on Tuesday.

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Israeli government officials confirmed that Netanyahu sent a letter to Erdogan following the Turkish leader’s third straight election victory, adding that this was standard practice in relations between countries. They did not, however, discuss the letter’s content.

The officials also neither confirmed or denied reports that there were currently secret direct talks between the countries aimed at reestablishing normal relations.

Turkey recalled its ambassador immediately after the Mavi Marmara incident last year, and has said it will only send an envoy back to Tel Aviv after Israel apologizes for the death of nine Turkish men on the ship trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and pays compensation to the families of those killed.

Israel has indicated in the past that it would be willing to express “regret” at the loss of life, but not apologize. It has also hinted that the compensation issue would not stand in the way of an agreement, as long as the compensation ended all legal claims against it.

Last week, during a trip to Rome, Netanyahu said at a press conference that he was interested in repairing ties with Ankara.

“We did not choose, in any way, a deterioration in ties with Turkey. We are always hoping to fix what has been damaged, and to stop the deterioration and place the ties back on a positive track.”

Netanyahu said there was no reason for continued tense ties, and that Israel would be happy at any opportunity to improve the situation. He welcomed assistance from any state and leader who wanted to help toward that end.

The US has reportedly been working intensively behind the scenes trying to patch up the relationship. US President Barack Obama has spoken twice with Erdogan since the latter’s election victory, and it is widely believed that one of the issues they discussed was the Ankara-Jerusalem relationship.

Government sources have said that Israel’s position was that it regretted the deterioration in relations with Turkey, and that a positive bilateral relationship between Jerusalem and Ankara served both countries.

One government official said Israel hoped it would be possible to “turn this thing around,” and “create positive momentum in the relationship.”

The source did not say, however, whether Israel was considering any other gestures at this time toward the Turks.

Government officials said that for the most part, Turkey’s senior leadership has abandoned its stridently anti-Israel rhetoric since the elections. They also noted positively that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the Hamas-linked Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) to reconsider participation in the planned upcoming flotilla to Gaza, and that the organization – and its flagship, the Mavi Marmara – had indeed dropped out of the event, something welcomed in Jerusalem as a “positive signal” of the Turkish government’s intentions.

According to one school of thought in Jerusalem, the crisis in Syria that has sent thousands of refugees across that country’s border into Turkey – and has led to a strain in Turkish-Syrian ties that under Erdogan were getting extremely close – was one of the reasons Turkey was more keen now than a couple of months ago on improving relations with Israel; or at least keen on greatly reducing the level of friction.
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