Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to become even more inflexible regarding an accommodation with Israel if his AK Party wins critical municipal elections on Sunday, according to assessments in Jerusalem.
The key race is in Istanbul, Erdogan’s base. If his party fares well, his hand will be strengthened and the likelihood of an imminent closure to the Mavi Marmara incident will fade, according to these appraisals.
The assessments are in contrast to comments Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc made to the Hurriyet Daily News on Tuesday.
According to Arinc, a compensation deal between the two countries is likely to be inked after the elections. He said that after the two sides agree on compensation, diplomatic ties will be fully restored, with each side dispatching ambassadors to the other.
Israel, like the rest of the world, is following the upcoming municipal elections carefully – especially the results in the three biggest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – to see if the recent developments in the country, including the swirling corruption scandal, anti-government protests and Erdogan’s decision to shut down Twitter, will weaken him.
The Turkish media have over the past few months speculated on a number of occasions about a looming deal over the Mavi Marmara that, in the end, never happened.
In early February, Hurriyet reported that the two sides were nearing a deal for compensation for the casualties of the 2010 incident, in which nine Turkish activists trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip were killed by IDF commandos who came under attack after boarding the ship.
“An agreement is almost ready and is waiting for the finalization of some minor issues before being submitted to the two countries’ leadership,” Hurriyet quoted a diplomatic source as saying at the time.
A few days later, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey and Israel were as close as they ever were to ending the long-running saga over the incident that poisoned their once-strong relationship.
But then, two days later, Erdogan reiterated his government’s position that any reconciliation between Ankara and Jerusalem would be contingent upon an Israeli commitment to end the blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
“The compensation talks on behalf of the victims of the Mavi Marmara, which are taking place between Ankara and Jerusalem, have not concluded,” Erdogan said. “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.”
Israel has made clear that it had no intention of ending the naval blockade, which the UN’s Palmer Committee deemed lawful, as a condition to renewing ties with Ankara.
Erdogan and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to normalize relations after a three-year deadlock in March 2013, after Netanyahu – at the behest of US President Barack Obama – called Erdogan and apologized for operational errors that may have led to the loss of life on the ship. The expected normalization, however, never materialized.
Diplomats from the two countries met at least four times over the past year working on an agreement that would enable a restoration of full ties. Turkey withdrew its ambassador immediately after the incident, and expelled Israel’s envoy in 2011.