Saying sorry to Turkey?

Obama administration is convinced that resolution of 'Mavi Marmara' fiasco is key to maintaining Israel-Turkey-US strategic triangle.

mavi marmara flotilla_311 reuters (photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
mavi marmara flotilla_311 reuters
(photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
The US is keenly pursuing reconciliation between Turkey and Israel. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convinced UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to postpone until the end of August the release of the UN’s Palmer Commission report on the Mavi Marmara. The delay would facilitate negotiations between Jerusalem and Ankara aimed at returning to semi-normalcy in relations and allow for the burying of the Palmer Commission report, which reportedly upholds the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, but takes the IDF to task for using disproportionate force.
The Obama administration is convinced that resolution of the Mavi Marmara fiasco is the key to maintaining the Israel-Turkey-US strategic triangle, so essential in American eyes to a stable Middle East.
The US, therefore, wants Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to back a formula that includes an apology for “operational mishaps” that resulted in the loss of nine Turkish lives in the Israel Navy commando raid last year, and payment of compensation through a fund to be set up by the Turkish government.
The Turks, meanwhile, will be asked to agree to refrain from bringing legal claims against the commandos who boarded the ship, or against the officers and political leaders who sent them, and resolve their dispute with Israel.
At least two members of the cabinet – Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor – have expressed a willingness to adopt the US formula.
They seem to think that acquiescing to Turkey’s demand for an apology and compensation could lead to an improvement in deteriorating relations. It would also prevent Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from reverting to his “Plan B” if Israel does not apologize, which, according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, includes lowering even further the current level of diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv from charge d’affairs to second secretary and making a high-profile Turkish trip to Gaza in a show of solidarity with Gazans and the Hamas leadership.
The Navy commandos – some of whom are identifiable on video footage taken of them being stabbed and beaten by Turkish “activists” on board the Mavi Marmara – would be protected from legal actions. Refusing to apologize, in contrast, might also have negative ramifications for Israel’s relations with the Obama administration.
Nevertheless, we believe it would be a grave mistake to issue an apology, particularly under threat from Turkey’s prime minister. On a diplomatic level, doing so would be interpreted as a sign of weakness. It would also be a disservice to the commandos.
After being tasked with a life-threatening mission to protect legitimate Israeli interests, the country’s political leadership should now stand behind them. If anything, the Turkish government should be asked to apologize for helping to violate Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza.
Nor is it clear that the commandos will truly be shielded from legal actions against them when they go abroad. The Turkish government might uphold its promise not to pursue legal actions – but individuals might not.
And an Israeli apology might make matters worse from an international legal perspective, if interpreted as an admission of guilt.
Also, while Turkey is interested in seeing the Palmer Commission report buried because it backs the legality of the Gaza blockade, Israel, for the same reason, has a vested interest in making sure the report is published. It would be the first official, internationally recognized report supporting Israel’s legal right to blockade the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
There does not seem to be much gained from apologizing. Normalization of diplomatic relations with Turkey does not appear to be in the offing, though business ties appear to remain relatively strong notwithstanding the 59 percent drop in tourism in the first five months of the year, compared to the same period in 2010.
Erdogan has said on numerous occasions that he demands nothing less than the lifting of the blockade on Gaza – a move that would make it easier for Hamas to build up its supply of rocket and mortar shells for future use against Israeli civilians.
Under the circumstances, the White House’s pressure on Netanyahu to apologize to the Turks raises serious questions. Does the Obama administration – or Barak and Meridor, for that matter – truly believe that an apology from Israel will fundamentally change relations with Turkey?
Shouldn’t the US be exerting more efforts to convince Turkey to recognize the legality and legitimacy of Israel’s blockade of Gaza? Saying sorry might sound innocent. But in the case of Turkey, it is liable to do more harm than good.