Differences over the terms for Israel and Turkey to normalize their relations surfaced again on Tuesday, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told fellow party members that progress was conditional on Israel moving to lift its security blockade of the Gaza Strip. He claimed that Israel had promised to do so, while Israel has indicated that it made no such promise.
“We constantly gave them three conditions,” Erdogan said. The first was that Israel issue “an apology” for killing nine Turkish citizens after IDF naval commandos were attacked when intercepting the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara in May 2010. “They wanted to express sorrow, but we said no. We wanted the word apology,” he said, according to the Turkish Hurriyet daily.
The second was that Israel pay compensation to the families of the nine, which Israel was long prepared to do, he said.
And the third was that Israel worked to lift the security blockade of Gaza, maintained to prevent Hamas importing weapons for use against Israel.
Erdogan said he rejected a recent Israeli proposal on the grounds that it was “unacceptable.” Friday’s phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, brokered by the US and held at Ben-Gurion Airport minutes before US President Barack Obama left Israel, met all conditions, Erdogan indicated.
He said he told Netanyahu that “we have to continue… with the lifting of the blockade,” and that Netanyahu agreed to this.
However, a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office soon after the call on Friday made no commitment to lifting the blockade. Rather, it stated in this content, Netanyahu told Erdogan “that Israel has already lifted several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and added that this will continue as long as the quiet is maintained. The two leaders agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.”
“Another text came to us ahead of US President Barack Obama’s Middle East visit,” Erdogan said Tuesday. “There were things there that were unacceptable, so we turned it down.”
Erdogan added that Ankara would monitor the situation in Gaza to ensure that Israel fulfills its obligation to lift the blockade. According to the Today’s Zaman newspaper, Erdogan told parliamentarians that he would accompany Turkish relief organizations to the West Bank and Gaza to monitor the blockade and the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.
Speaking at an Arab League summit in Qatar on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Israel’s apology “an important achievement for the Palestinian people.”
“There have been developments on the Palestinian issue and we welcome that,” he said, adding, “We will do everything we can so that Palestine becomes a full member of the United Nations and Jerusalem becomes her capital.”
Earlier this week, Erdogan said he was likely to visit Gaza and the West Bank next month. Israel’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said Israel had “nothing to be ashamed of” in Gaza, and that if Erdogan wanted to visit, he would have to explain to the international community why he wanted good relations with the terrorist organization — Hamas — that runs the strip.
Erdogan and Davutoglu’s comments Tuesday came four days after the call in which Netanyahu apologized for “operational errors” made during the raid on the Marmara, a vessel seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, in which the nine Turkish activists were killed.
In the call, Erdogan accepted Netanyahu’s apology and the two were reported to have agreed to return their respective ambassadors and pledged to overcome differences.
On Monday, Israel and Turkey took a second step toward warming diplomatic ties, with Davutoglu holding a phone conversation with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who also serves as the new Israeli government’s chief negotiater with the Palestinians.
According to Hurriyet, the two discussed the formalization of Israel’s obligation to pay compensation to the families of those killed aboard the Gaza-bound Marmara.
However, recent statements by Erdogan — Tuesday’s comments among them — indicated that the road to reconciliation may not be smooth.
On Saturday, Erdogan appeared to backtrack on the understandings reached with Netanyahu, saying it was too early to cancel legal steps against Israeli soldiers who took part in the raid on the Mamara and that the exchange of ambassadors between Israel and Turkey would not take place immediately.
Then, on Sunday, Erdogan reiterated that normalized relations with Jerusalem would only happen if Israel implemented its side of an ostensible new bargain with Turkey, which he claimed included Israel’s lifting its security blockade of Gaza.
“We have said: ‘An apology will be made, compensation will be paid and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted.’ There will be no normalization without these,” Erdogan said.
Ron Friedman and Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.