Barak raises prospect of apology to Turkey

Israel seeking ways to resume talks with Palestinian Authority, defense minister tells UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
July 31, 2011 00:45
3 minute read.
Ehud Barak meets with Ban Ki-moon.

barak ban ki-moon_311 reuters. (photo credit: POOL New / Reuters)

WASHINGTON – Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday indicated that Israel was considering apologizing to Turkey.

He spoke at the end of a day spent meeting with American officials who stressed the importance of the Israeli-Turkish relationship.

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“We are willing to consider apologizing for problems that occurred during the Marmara operation, if indeed there were such problems,” Barak said, referring to the IDF’s prevention of the Comoros-flagged, Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara protest ship from breaking the blockade of Gaza in May 2010, when nine Turkish men were killed. “I don’t like it, but that is the choice that must be made.”

Barak indicated that he agreed with the American assessment of the significance of the relationship with Turkey, and the priority Israel should attach to mending the fractured relationship.

However, he declared that “we are not apologizing for the blockade and we are not apologizing for using force.”

The defense minister’s comments comes as Israel and Turkey consult about repairing their relationship, which has deteriorated steadily since the Islamic AKP came to power in Ankara in 2002, but was ruptured after the Mavi Marmara incident.

Turkey has demanded an apology, along with compensation for the bereaved families and an end to the blockade.

Israel has refused, defending the raid as necessary and the behavior of the flotilla activists as reckless and hostile. Few Israeli officials have broached the possibility of a largely politically unpalatable apology.

Barak’s sentiments, conveyed during a press briefing with Israeli journalists during a Washington visit last week, also were made as the UN prepares a report on the flotilla that is sure to not be entirely to Israel’s, or Turkey’s, liking.

While Barak said his understanding is that the report had “very important conclusions for Israel, which put Turkey in the corner in terms of the justification for the blockade, the justification for stopping the flotilla and the justification for using force,” he added that there was also “a problematic element dealing with what happened during the operation.”

He continued, “We don’t agree with some things, but we must make a choice between a problematic report and reaching an understanding with Turkey.”

Publication of the report has been postponed to give Israel and Turkey more time to reconcile.

Barak, in his media briefing, pointed to an additional cause for concern, the legal ramifications for IDF soldiers on trips abroad over their connection to the incident.

“Defense Ministry and IDF legal advisers recommend that we come to an understanding with Turkey in order to protect commanders and soldiers from legal action,” he said.

Barak also met Friday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and told him that Israel is still working on ways to resume peace talks with the Palestinians ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September, when the Palestinian Authority is expected to seek unilateral statehood, AFP reported.

Ban repeated his call that Israel return to the negotiating table, and expressed concern over settlement construction.

“We are still trying to find a formula that will enable an understanding between the members of the Quartet in a way that will enable a resumption of negotiations,” Barak was quoted as telling reporters.

He added, “I cannot honestly predict that it will happen, but we are still trying to do our best to enable it,” stressing that direct talks are the only way to reach a permanent solution between both sides. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.


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