Turkey dismisses reported Israeli reconciliation attempt

Turkey dismisses reported Israeli reconciliation attempt

Hürriyet says former ambassador to Ankara signaled willingness to apologize for Marmara deaths; Jerusalem denies statement was anything new

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The Mavi Marmara is tugged out of Haifa harbor long after the raid (photo credit: Herzl Shapira/Flash 90)
The Mavi Marmara is tugged out of Haifa harbor long after the raid (photo credit: Herzl Shapira/Flash 90)

Turkey dismissed an attempt made by Jerusalem on Monday to bring the two countries to the negotiation table to reconcile strained relations and discuss the Syrian crisis, according to Turkish media reports.

Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Pinhas Avivi reportedly told Turkish journalists at a hi-tech conference in Jerusalem that Israel and Turkey should put their disagreements aside and concentrate on dealing with the rising maelstrom in neighboring Syria.

Turkish daily Hürriyet also reported that Avivi — who was Israel’s ambassador to Turkey from 2003-7 — indicated that Israel was prepared to negotiate with Turkey, without any preconditions, over apologizing for the deaths of Turkish nationals during an Israeli raid on a Gaza blockade-busting ship in 2010. The report noted he “gave signs of accepting Turkey’s apology precondition.”

The Foreign Ministry dismissed the accuracy of the Hürriyet report of Israeli willingness to apologize for the incident, and told The Times of Israel that Avivi “said nothing new about Israel-Turkey relations.”

A former Israeli charge d’affaires in Turkey, ex-Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel remarked to The Times of Israel that, “At this stage there is one word missing in the Israeli efforts” to reconcile with Ankara.

“It is the word ‘apology’. The effort will not succeed without this word,” Liel said.

According to the paper, Avivi “proposed a peace deal to Turkey, saying the two countries have to negotiate in order to mutually solve their issues.” Israeli news site Ynet said Avivi merely tried to bring the two countries to the table to discuss the increasingly volatile situation in Syria.

“We have to overcome our issues and focus on the future. We have both made some mistakes, but the escalated crisis between Israel and Turkey was artificial. We can sit around the table and solve our problems,” Avivi was quoted as saying.

Israel enjoyed relatively close relations with Turkey until May 2010, when nine Turks aboard a Gaza blockade-busting ship were killed by Israeli forces. Pro-Palestinian activists aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara attempted to break the Israeli blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. When IDF soldiers boarded the ship, they were attacked by activists with clubs and bars; the melee ended with nine Turkish civilians killed and seven Israeli soldiers injured.

Neither Israel nor Turkey currently maintains an ambassadorial mission, and relations remain strained despite low-level efforts to reconcile the sides. Turkey recalled its ambassador in the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident and expelled the Israeli ambassador — Gabby Levy — in September 2011.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal dismissed Avivi’s attempt at reconciliation and cooperation and maintained Ankara’s stance that Israel must apologize for the deaths of its citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara.

“There is no change in Turkey’s stance when it comes to relations with Israel. Instead of trying to present statements via the media, Israeli officials should take steps to normalize relations with Turkey,” Turkish newspaper Sabah quoted him as saying.

If accurate, Avivi’s statements to the Turkish press would mark the first time an Israeli official indicated the possibility of an official apology. It “could very well be an attempt to test the waters” with Turkey, Dr. Nimrod Goren, chairman of MITVIM, The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, told The Times of Israel.

“The choice of [Avivi] is also of importance — a former ambassador to Turkey, someone who is probably regarded positively in Ankara, and is perceived in Israel as knowing what he’s talking about when it comes to Turkey,” Goren added.

Although Turkey’s official response was “discouraging,” said Goren, “people in Ankara took good note of what has been said today.”

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