Israeli and Turkish flags 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s demand last week that in addition
to apologizing for the Mavi Marmara incident and paying compensation, Israel
must also lift the blockade of Gaza as a precondition to a normalization of
ties, is complicating efforts to find a resolution to the issue, Israeli
officials said Monday.
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stanceShould Israel apologize to Turkey?
The UN’s Palmer Commission, established to
investigate the incident, is expected to issue its findings at the end of the
month, and Israeli and Turkish officials have been engaged in negotiations
trying to hammer out a formula acceptable to both sides before the issuing of
The 90-page report is widely expected to say that Israel was
within its legal rights in clamping a blockade on the Gaza Strip, but that it
used excessive force against the Mavi Marmara. Nine Turks were killed when IDF
commandos boarded the ship in an effort to implement the blockade, and were
attacked by passengers.
According to Israeli officials, Israel, which has
said on numerous occasions that it is willing to pay compensation to the
families of the victims, wants to ensure that if it does so, it will be the end
of the issue and it will not leave the soldiers involved in the incident open to
any further legal action.
Regarding the apology issue, the sides,
according to Israeli officials, have discussed but did not yet come to an
agreement on a formula whereby an apology would not be for the whole military
action, but rather for isolated “operational mishaps.”
on this issue was being made, the officials said Erdogan’s new demand during a
speech to parliament that Israel lift the blockade of Gaza – a matter that is
not a bilateral Turkish- Israeli issue – has complicated matters. It has also
left a feeling among some in Jerusalem that Erdogan is not interested in
bringing this issue to closure.
But the Turkish representative on the
Palmer Commission, Ozdem Sanberk, said in an interview that appeared Sunday on
the Turkish Today’s Zaman website that it would be possible to restore relations
with Israel if it “agrees to apologize and pay compensation.”
He did not
mention the Gaza blockade issue.
Asked if Erdogan’s comments made his job
more difficult, Sanberk said, “Statesmen make politically motivated statements
and we cannot expect that to change. That’s the nature of politics. All politics
are local. We still have to do what we need to do, and we must continue to
pursue our strategy of negotiation.”
Sanberk said there were “political
forces” involved in the issue that were not under the control of the
negotiators, but added he thought the “two countries have a strong political
will to leave this tragedy behind them.”
Asked whether he thought it
would be possible to overcome Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s objection to
an Israeli apology, Sanberk, well aware of the Israeli political situation,
said, “I cannot speak for the domestic policy of Israel. There is a coalition
government there and coalitions have their inherent fragilities. We would
like Israel to demonstrate its capacity to act in a rational
Sanberk, a retired career diplomat whose postings have included
ambassador to the EU and ambassador to Britain, said Turkey respected “our
heritage with the Israelis. We have a unique relationship with Israel, but we
stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, too.”
Israel is trying to
“mitigate its responsibility” for the incident, Sanberk said. “It is trying to
say that it had no intention to kill people and those operational mistakes
occurred. But even if I spill some coffee on you, I would apologize and offer to
pay the cost of your dry cleaning. This is expected.
Israel fears that
the marines and their commanders would be exposed to prosecution abroad because
an apology would be seen as an admission of culpability.”