The US is keenly pursuing reconciliation between Turkey and Israel. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton convinced UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to postpone
until the end of August the release of the UN’s Palmer Commission report on the
Mavi Marmara. The delay would facilitate negotiations between Jerusalem and
Ankara aimed at returning to semi-normalcy in relations and allow for the
burying of the Palmer Commission report, which reportedly upholds the legality
of Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, but takes the IDF to task for
using disproportionate force.
The Obama administration is convinced that
resolution of the Mavi Marmara
fiasco is the key to maintaining the
Israel-Turkey-US strategic triangle, so essential in American eyes to a stable
The US, therefore, wants Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
to back a formula that includes an apology for “operational mishaps” that
resulted in the loss of nine Turkish lives in the Israel Navy commando raid last
year, and payment of compensation through a fund to be set up by the Turkish
The Turks, meanwhile, will be asked to agree to refrain from
bringing legal claims against the commandos who boarded the ship, or against the
officers and political leaders who sent them, and resolve their dispute with
At least two members of the cabinet – Defense Minister Ehud Barak
and Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor – have expressed a willingness to adopt
the US formula.
They seem to think that acquiescing to Turkey’s demand
for an apology and compensation could lead to an improvement in deteriorating
relations. It would also prevent Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
from reverting to his “Plan B” if Israel does not apologize, which, according to
the Turkish daily Hurriyet, includes lowering even further the current level of
diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv from charge d’affairs to second secretary
and making a high-profile Turkish trip to Gaza in a show of solidarity with
Gazans and the Hamas leadership.
The Navy commandos – some of whom are
identifiable on video footage taken of them being stabbed and beaten by Turkish
“activists” on board the Mavi Marmara – would be protected from legal actions.
Refusing to apologize, in contrast, might also have negative ramifications for
Israel’s relations with the Obama administration.
believe it would be a grave mistake to issue an apology, particularly under
threat from Turkey’s prime minister. On a diplomatic level, doing so would be
interpreted as a sign of weakness. It would also be a disservice to the
After being tasked with a life-threatening mission to protect
legitimate Israeli interests, the country’s political leadership should now
stand behind them. If anything, the Turkish government should be asked to
apologize for helping to violate Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza.
it clear that the commandos will truly be shielded from legal actions against
them when they go abroad. The Turkish government might uphold its promise
not to pursue legal actions – but individuals might not.
And an Israeli
apology might make matters worse from an international legal perspective, if
interpreted as an admission of guilt.
Also, while Turkey is interested in
seeing the Palmer Commission report buried because it backs the legality of the
Gaza blockade, Israel, for the same reason, has a vested interest in making sure
the report is published. It would be the first official, internationally
recognized report supporting Israel’s legal right to blockade the
Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
There does not seem to be much gained from
apologizing. Normalization of diplomatic relations with Turkey does not
appear to be in the offing, though business ties appear to remain relatively
strong notwithstanding the 59 percent drop in tourism in the first five months
of the year, compared to the same period in 2010.
Erdogan has said on
numerous occasions that he demands nothing less than the lifting of the blockade
on Gaza – a move that would make it easier for Hamas to build up its supply of
rocket and mortar shells for future use against Israeli civilians.
the circumstances, the White House’s pressure on Netanyahu to apologize to the
Turks raises serious questions. Does the Obama administration – or Barak
and Meridor, for that matter – truly believe that an apology from Israel will
fundamentally change relations with Turkey?
Shouldn’t the US be exerting more
efforts to convince Turkey to recognize the legality and legitimacy of Israel’s
blockade of Gaza? Saying sorry might sound innocent. But in the case of
Turkey, it is liable to do more harm than good.