Israel and Turkey are likely to normalize relations soon after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu returns from Japan on Friday, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said Sunday.
“We are waiting for the prime minister to return and finalize the deal,” the official said, confirming – finally – a steady drumbeat of stories from Turkey over the last few months saying that a deal was imminent that would put an end to the Mavi Marmara saga.
If, indeed, Netanyahu approves the deal, it will come some four years after Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza on May 30, 2010, and – after facing heavy resistance and coming under attack on board the ship – killed nine Turks.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week that talks between the two countries had reached “a certain level” and that “problems have been substantially overcome.”
“Our colleagues are continuing the talks. I’d like to underline that we have seen positive developments,” he said in a press conference.
According to a story last week in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, Davutoglu mentioned Turkey’s previous preconditions for normalization of relations, including an apology for the incident, compensation payments to the families of the victims and “lifting restrictions on the whole of Palestine, including Gaza.”
“The apology has been received, and the compensation talks have reached a certain level,” he said.
Netanyahu apologized to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over a year ago for “operational errors” aboard the ship that may have led to a loss of life.
Israel has made clear it did not intend to lift the blockade of Gaza to reestablish normal ties with Turkey, but the sides have been discussing allowing Turkish aid to enter Gaza.
Erdogan said in a PBS interview some two weeks ago that a deal could be reached in a matter of days or weeks.
According to media reports, but not officially confirmed, the two sides have agreed that Israel would pay some $21 million to the families of the victims. This money would not be paid directly to the families, but rather deposited in a fund that would later be distributed among them.
Turkey, as part of the deal, is to pass legislation ending current or future legal proceedings against IDF commanders and officers.
Once the deal is signed, the countries are expected to immediately exchange ambassadors.
The senior Israeli diplomatic official could not say which particular issue was currently awaiting Netanyahu’s final signature.