Energy minister says Turkey deal near completion

Yuval Steinitz estimates ’90 percent’ of issues resolved with Ankara, reconciliation could come within weeks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, May 22, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, May 22, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Israel’s energy minister, considered a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Thursday that nearly all outstanding issues for a reconciliation agreement with Turkey had been finalized by both sides.

“I’d say we’ve successfully finished dealing with 90 percent of the topics,” Yuval Steinitz said in a radio interview.

Steinitz’s remarks were the latest in a series of statements from both sides implying a deal was imminent to end the rift between the former allies.

The accord would come six years after a deadly May 2010 raid on a Gaza Strip-bound Turkish ship attempting to breach the blockade on the coastal enclave, in which 10 Turkish citizens were killed during a melee with Israeli commandos. The incident led to a nosedive in already tense relations between the two countries. Turkey demanded an immediate apology, compensation for the victims’ families and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza before normal relations could resume.

Israel refused and only issued an official apology some three years later. Talks on compensation have reached advanced stages, according to reports, but one of the main hurdles has remained the lifting of the Israeli blockade.

A Channel 10 report on Wednesday said that a major step forward in reconciliation came when Turkey agreed to back off its demand that Israel lift the blockade, while Jerusalem dropped its insistence that Ankara close Hamas offices in its territory. Instead, Turkey will be given an elevated position regarding humanitarian projects in Gaza.

According to the report, Israel has agreed in return that a Hamas office in Istanbul can remain open as long as Turkish authorities keep a close watch on its activities and prevent it from directing terror activities in the West Bank.

Israel apologized to Turkey in 2013, in what many thought would trigger a warming in ties, but tensions soared again the following year when Israel launched a military offensive in Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli towns and cities.

After years of bitter recrimination and inflammatory rhetoric, the two sides began secret talks in December to seek a rapprochement, with another round taking place in February in Geneva.

Pressed by Israel’s 103FM radio station to say when he thought a deal might be completed, Steinitz said Thursday he hoped it would be “in the coming weeks.”

“There is a huge interest on both sides — a strategic interest and an energy-related and economic one,” he said.

The minister added that the passage in Israel of a long-debated agreement aimed at enabling the export of some of the country’s natural gas to Turkey and Europe would help speed up a deal.

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that they had “made some proposals” on ways to ease the shortage of electricity and water in Gaza.

“The developments look like they are going positively,” he said.

The day before, Netanyahu reportedly told visiting American congressmen that Israel and Turkey were “very close” to patching up relations.

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