Israeli-Turkish reconciliation talks off to positive start

Compensation for Mavi Marmara victims, use of Turkish territory for possible Israeli strike on Iran, and Erdogan’s Gaza visit said to be discussed

US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, point toward the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, April 21, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hakan Goktepe, Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, point toward the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, April 21, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hakan Goktepe, Pool)

The first day of reconciliation talks between Israel and Turkey got off to a “positive” start Monday, as the sides attempted to thaw three years of estranged relations through US-brokered negotiations.

The talks dealt largely with Jerusalem’s compensation to the families of nine Turkish nationals killed during the 2010 Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, which was en route to the Gaza Strip to break the naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory. Israeli commandos boarded the vessel on May 30, 2010, were attacked with clubs and metal bars, and opened fire, killing the nine Turkish activists.

The mood of the talks was described as “positive” by sources at the meetings. Turkey’s Vice Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, told reporters at a press conference that both parties thought the talks were held “in good spirits” and that they had agreed on the main points, but were working out the details.

One of Turkey’s sticking points was that the families of the Turks killed aboard the Mavi Marmara be compensated fairly. A framework was said to be being devised, under which payments will be based on the victims’ age, family circumstances and other factors.

Arinc said that Israel’s payment would be a “large step foward” toward normalizing relations between the two countries.

The detente began in late March after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — at the urging of the US — apologized to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for any “operational errors” that caused the loss of life.

According to Channel 2 News, a second topic discussed by the delegations was Israel’s possible use of Turkish territory to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

Israeli National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror, who is currently in Turkey to discuss the compensation deal, was expected to offer Turkey advanced missile and surveillance technology in exchange for a base and training facilities at Akinci air base, northwest of Ankara, according to a Sunday Times report. The move would see a resumption of an arrangement that was established in 1996 and remained in place until the two countries all but cut off relations.

Yet, Turkey on Monday denied that Ankara was involved in discussions to allow Israel to station fighter jets in its territory ahead of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in exchange for Israeli military technology.

A Turkish official told the Hurriyet Daily News that The Sunday Times report was “a hypothesis” about the “step-by-step” process of the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.

“Talking about the prospects of a military cooperation at this stage would be irrelevant,” he added. “We are not there yet. We haven’t even appointed a new ambassador to Israel yet.”

A third topic believed to have been discussed by the delegations was Erdogan’s ostensible visit to Gaza in May, which would come on the heels of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s planned visit to Istanbul, scheduled for April. The US has urged Erdogan to cancel or postpone the visit to Gaza, and he is understood to be rethinking — although Arinc said at the press conference that such decisions would be made by Turkey alone.

Erdogan, who has been a vocal critic of Israel’s policies toward Gaza and the Palestinians, was reported to be a possible future mediator between Jerusalem and Ramallah in peace talks.

Earlier in Ankara on Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry, helping to broker the reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, professed to understand the anger and frustration of those Turks who lost friends and family during the 2010 IDF raid on the Marmara.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) on Monday berated Kerry for his comments in which he likened the Mavi Marmara flotilla casualties to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings last week.

“It is never helpful when a moral equivalency is made confusing terrorists with their victims,” Danon told The Times of Israel. ”As our American friends were made all too aware once again last week, the only way to deal with the evils of terrorism is to wage an unrelenting war against its perpetrators, wherever they may be,” he said.

Raphael Ahren and Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.

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