Erdogan: No closer Israel ties without 'Marmara' apology

PM’s office denies reports Clinton pressured Netanyahu to apologize; Foreign Ministry has no plans to replace retiring Turkish ambassador.

Tayyip Erdogan 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Tayyip Erdogan 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Turkish-Israeli ties can only be restored if Israel apologizes for its raid on the Gaza flotilla, compensates its victims and ends the Gaza blockade, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, putting a damper on hopes of a reconciliation between the two countries.
“As long as Israel does not apologize, does not pay compensation [for the nine deaths] and does not lift the embargo on Palestine [Gaza], it is not possible for Turkish-Israeli ties to improve,” he said.
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He spoke amid media reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had rejected a demand by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to apologize to Turkey for the death of nine Turkish activists last year during an IDF raid on the Gazabound ship Mavi Marmara.
According to the reports, Netanyahu told Clinton in a Tuesday night phone call that all Israel could do was express sorrow for the deaths, but would not formally apologize.
Late Wednesday night, the Prime Minister’s Office, which had been silent on the matter all day, rejected reports that Clinton had pressured Netanyahu to apologize. It said Israel and the US continue to work together in a positive manner to repair ties with Turkey.
Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the US embassy, said Washington wanted Israel and Turkey “to look for opportunities to get past the current strains in their bilateral relations.”
He did not comment on the Clinton phone call with Netanyahu.
An Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post that no government decision had been taken yet regarding a formal apology to Turkey.
The government is looking at different options on how a decision regarding an apology impacts the relationship with Turkey, neighboring countries and US interests in the region, the official said.
In response to the media reports, both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke Wednesday against apologizing to Turkey.
Lieberman praised Netanyahu’s decision not to apologize even though he said it had come too late.
“It made us look indecisive and it also gave false hope to some of our friends,” he said.
Ya’alon said an apology would be a strategic mistake that would not restore relations with Turkey – particularly given that the ties were deteriorating even before the Marmara incident.
While relations with Turkey are of great importance, Ya’alon said it was absurd on Israel’s part to apologize for an act of violence that Turkey itself had provoked.
He warned that such an apology would send the wrong message to Israeli soldiers who were defending their lives on board the ship, and it would make Israel appear weak in Turkey’s eyes.
As evidence of the depth of tensions between the two countries, the Foreign Ministry has no plans to replace its ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, when he retires in September.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday that Israel feared Turkey would reject any new ambassador it sent.
“We need to know that they are going to accept him [a new ambassador].
The concern is that they would not accept him,” said Palmor, who noted there has not been a Turkish ambassador in Israel for over a year.
He said he did not believe it was possible for Israel to send an ambassador to Turkey until ties between the two countries improved.
Erdogan’s comments and news of the looming absence of an Israeli ambassador in Turkey comes as the UN prepares to release the Palmer Report on the Marmara incident, possibly next week.
The four-member committee, which began investigating the incident, is led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand. It has three others members, including former Columbian president Alvaro Uribe, Joseph Ciechanover of Israel and Ozdem Sanberk of Turkey.
Although the report has not yet been formally presented to UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, Israeli officials have seen a draft version, which they say vindicates the legality of their actions by stating the maritime blockade of Gaza is illegal and the IDF had a right to board the flotilla in May 2010.
The report, however, according to Israelis, does criticize the behavior of the IDF aboard the ship.
The hope had been that the report would help mend ties between the two countries and there is some speculation that the report’s release has been delayed pending a reconciliation between Turkey and Israel.
Turkey has said it would not accept such a report that does not include an apology from Israel.
“If the Palmer Report does not contain an apology, both sides and the United States know what we will do,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Istanbul, without elaborating.
“Israel is facing a choice: deeper relations with Turkey, or open a gap with the Turkish state that will not be overcome very easily,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.