'Turkish PM's demands delaying diplomatic reconciliation'

Israeli officials say Erdogan's statements that Gaza blockade must be lifted is complicating efforts to solve differences.

Israeli and Turkish flags 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
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 report.
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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.”
Although progress 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 way.”
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.”