Face-saving formula on Gaza blockade could allow Israel-Turkey normalization

The Istanbul-based 'Daily Sabah', affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported on Saturday that Israel had agreed to ease the blockade.

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December 20, 2015 06:46
4 minute read.
Antalya, Turkey

Supporters of the ruling AK Party wave Turkish national and party flags at an election rally for Turkey's June 7 parliamentary election, in Antalya, Turkey, June 6, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Amid speculation about whether Israel would ease its blockade of Gaza as part of a deal to normalize ties with Turkey, one government official said Saturday that Jerusalem has already significantly increased the quantity of goods allowed into the Gaza Strip in recent months.

The Istanbul-based Daily Sabah, affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported on Saturday that Israel had agreed to ease the blockade.

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On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office said understandings between Israel and Turkey had been reached during secret meetings in Switzerland that would allow for a reconciliation between the two countries.

Erdogan has consistently put forward three demands for a normalization of ties: an Israeli apology for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident; a compensation package for the families of those killed on the Marmara; and a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

Netanyahu issued an apology in 2013, at US President Barack Obama’s urging, for “any error that may have led to the loss of life.” The sides have reportedly reached agreement on the establishment of a fund of $20 million for the families.

But there was no mention in the PMO statement on Thursday of the Gaza blockade issue, though Israeli officials have said repeatedly that Israel will not lift the maritime blockade and allow cargo into Gaza without security checks.

What seems to be emerging, however, is a situation whereby Erdogan will be able to save face by claiming commitments by Israel to continue to allow the transfer of more products overland into the Strip.

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Over the last several months, for instance, Turkish aid to Gaza has arrived at Israeli ports and been transferred through the crossings there.

According to Sabah, Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu are expected to sign the agreement before the end of the year, and the return of each country’s ambassador to the other will take place immediately afterward.

Meanwhile, opposition head Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) on Friday criticized the emerging deal as tardy. “If we had reached an agreement with Turkey two years ago, Israel would have benefited more,” the Zionist Union chairman said at an event hosted by Limmud FSU.

Herzog added that Jerusalem’s relations with Ankara should be strengthened in other spheres and while the emerging deal was the right step, it “must not give Erdogan a foothold in Gaza.”

Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) furiously condemned the emerging deal at the Limmud FSU event, saying “opportunism was no replacement for wise and balance diplomacy.”

“Erdogan leads a radical Islamic regime,” he said. “The Turks do business with Islamic State, invaded Iraq in opposition to all international rules, and they have tension with Russia.”

Furthermore, Liberman said, the move will harm the ties that Israel has developed with Greece and Cyprus, as well as with Egypt, which is also in a diplomatic confrontation with Turkey. There are signs, however, that Erdogan now wants to reconcile with Cairo as well.

National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said normalizing ties with Turkey had huge importance both to develop the Leviathan offshore gas field and to bring international energy companies back to Israel to look for new gas fields.

“I think that there is a serious, meaningful chance for thawing and normalizing relations between Israel and Turkey. I also think that this is proof of the diplomatic value of the gas and the gas plan,” he said on Tel Aviv 102 FM radio.

Meanwhile in Turkey, Today’s Zaman on Saturday quoted former foreign minister Hikmet Cetin, from the Kemalist opposition Republican People’s Party, as welcoming the deal, and saying it came five years too late.

“We started off with a ‘Zero problems with neighbors’ policy. Now we have no neighbors left. Turkey is isolated in the region,” Cetin was quoted as saying.

“However, even if Turkey were not so isolated, I would still have welcomed the news as Turkey needs good relations with Israel as we are both democratic countries with strong ties to the West.”

He said the Marmara incident was an unfortunate event, but that the ship should have heeded warnings and never set sail in the first place, and that Israel could have done more to resolve the issue.

The paper quoted the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH), which organized the Mavi Marmara voyage, as slamming the deal, and saying it served neither the interests of Turkey nor the Palestinians.

“An agreement with Israel, especially one that is to the detriment of the Mavi Marmara, will negatively affect both Turkey and Gaza,” the IHH was quoted as saying.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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