Top ministers air differing opinions on Turkey apology

Contrasting views emerge from Netanyahu's inner cabinet which has been discussing for weeks Turkish demands for 'Marmara' raid apology.

August 8, 2011 18:44
3 minute read.
'Mavi Marmara' under maintenance in Istanbul.

mavi marmara flotilla_311 reuters. (photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)


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The different approaches inside the government to Ankara’s demand for an apology over May 2010’s Mavi Marmara incident became public on Monday, with Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon calling the Turkish demand “chutzpah,” and Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor saying that relations could be repaired if both sides demonstrated “wisdom.”

Both Ya’alon and Meridor are members of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s inner forum of eight senior ministers that has been discussing the Turkish demand for weeks. The forum met again on Sunday to discuss the issue, without reaching any final conclusion.

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Ya’alon, in an Israel Radio interview, said the Mavi Marmara flotilla was a provocation for which Turkey bears responsibility. While Israel was sorry for the loss of life – nine Turkish men were killed – Ya’alon dismissed as “chutzpah” Turkish demands that Israel apologize, pay compensation to the families of the dead and lift the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“I am opposed in principle to meeting these demands,” he said.

The UN committee that investigated the incident – the Palmer Commission – is set to release its findings publicly on August 20. The release of the report has been pushed back on a number of occasions to enable the sides to work out a formula that would obviate the need for the report, which has already been presented to UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon.

Ya’alon’s position is that the report – which reportedly upholds the legality of the naval blockade and the interception of vessels trying to block it, while taking the IDF to task for a disproportionate use of force – should be released.

He raised doubts that an apology would improve relations with Ankara, saying the Turks were trying to “put Israel into a corner, and raise the stature of Turkey in the eyes of the Arab world, Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Regarding Turkish threats not to return their ambassador to Tel Aviv – withdrawn immediately after the incident – if an apology were not forthcoming, Ya’alon said he was not willing to pay the price the Turks were asking to get their envoy back.

Ya’alon’s comments dovetailed with statements Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made on Sunday, in which he said he was completely opposed to any type of apology.

Meridor, however, took a bit of a softer line, saying in an Israel Radio interview that improved Israeli-Turkish ties were important for the region, and that while an improvement was not only dependent on Israel, if both sides showed “wisdom” a solution could be found.

Meridor characterized what happened on the ship as a “tragedy” that Israel did not intend, adding – however – that the Israel Navy commandos were attacked and then operated in a way that anyone would have acted to save themselves.

In addition to Ya’alon and Lieberman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Ministerwithout- Portfolio Bennie Begin are believed to be against any type of apology.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has come out forcefully in favor of finding a way to reconcile with Turkey, as has Meridor.

The positions of both Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, the remaining members of the inner cabinet, are unclear, though in private meetings Netanyahu has expressed doubts that an apology would significantly improve relations with Ankara or stem Turkish legal action against IDF soldiers who were involved in the incident.

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