Lifting the blockade on Gaza to improve relations with Turkey is not on the agenda, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Wednesday, responding to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s making this a condition for ending the Mavi Marmara saga.
The issue of easing the blockade has not been on the table in the talks with the Turks to come to an agreement that would normalize ties between the two erstwhile allies, and will not be on the table in the future, the sources said.
One government official said that the naval blockade of Gaza was a fundamental national security issue.
Erdogan said at a press conference Tuesday that the talks on compensation to the families of the nine Turks killed in the Mavi Marmara incident “have not concluded,” and that “in the final stages there will be a need to include a clause in the protocol that calls for the lifting of the siege on Gaza.”
Frequent reports over the past two weeks in the Turkish press indicated an imminent deal on compensation payments, a deal that – coupled with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan for operative errors that may have caused the loss of life in the incident – would lead to a renewal of full ties. A Turkish delegation was here just over a week ago for discussions on the matter.
Erdogan’s remarks took much of the air out of the reports, just two days after his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview that the sides were as close as ever to reaching an agreement.
Soon after the incident in May 2010, in which nine activists on the boat trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza were killed after they attacked IDF commandos who boarded their vessel to stop them, Turkey issued two demands of Israel: an apology and compensation payment.
But in July of 2011, Erdogan – who gained a great deal of esteem in the Arab world for being seen as the “champion” of Gaza – added another condition for the normalization of ties, during a speech he delivered to the Turkish parliament: that Israel lift the blockade of Gaza.
Then, as now, the demand left a feeling among some in Jerusalem that Erdogan was not interested in bringing this issue to closure, knowing full well that Jerusalem would not let a third party dictate to it what was necessary for its security.
Davutoglu, in his television interview, did not demand Israel lift the blockade, and cited Israel’s easing of the embargo on the area. He said that once ambassadors were exchanged – Turkey withdrew its envoy from Tel Aviv soon after the incident, and expelled Israel’s ambassador in 2011 – Turkey’s representation in Israel would be “significant” in order to “monitor and to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza.”
In another issue related to Gaza, the UN’s Mideast envoy Robert Serry visited there Wednesday and issued a statement of concern at the erosion of the cease-fire reached following Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
“During the past two months, we have seen more rockets being fired at Israel, border incidents and Israeli retaliatory operations causing death or injury to civilians. The United Nations condemns the rise in violence, and all parties must act in accordance with international law,” he said.
The statement also bewailed that “social and economic conditions in Gaza were deteriorating as a result of continued closures.”
Although the Foreign Ministry does not react to the vast majority of the numerous statements Serry puts out, most of them criticizing Israel, it did – when asked – see fit to respond to this one.
“Once again Serry is equating crime and punishment,” a spokeswoman for the ministry said. “There is no symmetry whatsoever between unprovoked Palestinian missile attacks on Israeli civilian centers and legitimate retaliatory measures that Israel – just like any other sovereign country in the world – is forced to adopt.”