Confirming an apparent backtrack on reconciling differences with Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Sunday that normalized relations with Jerusalem would only happen if Israel implemented its side of an ostensible new bargain with Turkey.
“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, clarifying that Turkey would not return its ambassador to Israel right away. “Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation.”
“But if implementation does not realize, they should not take offense. We are saying it very open and clear,” Turkish daily Today’s Zaman quoted Erdogan saying.
Responding soon after, Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni sounded unfazed. Israel “might have to swallow a few such declarations” along the road to better ties, she said. She added that “it would have been better” if Israel had apologized years ago, “but better late than never.”
Sunday’s comments followed similar remarks Erdogan made on Saturday that appeared to backtrack on understandings reached with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a dramatic US-brokered phone call Friday aimed at healing ties between Ankara and Jerusalem.
Erdogan said Saturday it was too early to cancel legal steps against Israeli officers responsible for the 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound blockade-busting vessel Mavi Mamara, in which nine Turkish activists were killed — the incident which precipitated the break in relations between Israel and Turkey.
Erdogan also said the exchange of ambassadors between Israel and Turkey would not take place immediately.
“We will see what will be put into practice during the process. If [the Israelis] move forward in a promising way, we will make our contribution. Then, there would be an exchange of ambassadors,” Erdogan was quoted as saying, in remarks at an opening ceremony for a high-speed railway line in the central Turkish province of Eskişehir.
Erdogan said that, in the past, Israel had “expressed sorrow and regret several times, refusing to offer a formal apology” over the Marmara incident, but Ankara had “insisted on an apology.”
That apology had finally been delivered by Netanyahu on Friday, he said. “All our demands have now been met regarding that apology, which was offered the way we wanted,” Erdogan said in comments communicated by Today’s Zaman. The conditions now created represented a unique opportunity “for peace in the Middle East,” he also said.
Netanyahu’s office had stated after the call Friday that “the two men agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF soldiers.”
“The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life. In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation,” the PMO’s statement continued.
Netanyahu did not agree to lift the blockade, but did highlight 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.”
In his comments Saturday, Erdogan also announced plans to visit Gaza, possibly next month, and the West Bank too. Asked about an Erdogan visit to Gaza, Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser, Yaakov Amidror said late Saturday “Israel has nothing to be ashamed of” in Gaza, and that Erdogan would have to explain to the international community why he wanted good relations with “the terrorist organization” — Hamas — which controls the Strip.
Hamas’s Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, calling Netanyahu’s apology “a diplomatic victory for Ankara,” confirmed Erdogan would visit “in the near future,” and said this trip would mark “a significant step to ending the political and economic blockade” of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Erdogan told reporters that it wasn’t yet time to talk about dropping the case in which four IDF generals stand accused of war crimes over the incident. The indictment, prepared last summer, sought ten aggravated life sentences for each officer ostensibly involved in the 2010 raid — including former chief of the IDF General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin.
The Marmara was part of a May 2010 flotilla seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza — imposed to prevent weapons imports by Hamas for use against Israel. Israeli naval commandos were attacked by activists wielding clubs and iron bars as they sought to commandeer the vessel on May 30 as it neared Gaza, and they killed nine Turkish activists.
In November, IHH vice president Husein Oruch had told Today’s Zaman that “Turkey is the first country in the world that will take the unlawful Israeli actions to court,” adding that the trial was “a very significant case because today will mark the day that the untouchable image of Israel will be damaged.”