Liberman said set to vote against Turkey rapprochement deal
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Perennial critic quoted slamming PM's 'contemptible move' in giving cabinet a fait accompli

Liberman said set to vote against Turkey rapprochement deal

Defense minister says he will not wage public campaign against agreement, but sees no reason to warm up to Ankara

Avigdor Liberman speaks on the phone during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 26, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Avigdor Liberman speaks on the phone during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 26, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has reportedly said he will oppose the landmark rapprochement deal between Israel and Turkey when it comes to a vote later this week.

Jerusalem and Ankara announced Monday the terms of a deal ending years of diplomatic stalemate between the eastern Mediterranean countries and heralding the normalization of ties. The terms includes millions to be paid in compensation by Israel over an IDF raid on a ship attempting to break the Gaza blockade in 2010 that led to the deaths of 10 Turks.

Liberman — a long-time critic of Turkey who in January 2015 called its president the “anti-Semitic neighborhood bully” — told his Yisrael Beytenu party that he would not change his view, Channel 2 reported.

The $20 million in compensation for the Turks killed in the raid on the Mavi Marmara raid “has problematic ramifications for the future,” said Liberman.

“We won’t make a campaign out of it just as I didn’t in my opposition to the Shalit deal [the exchange of 1,027 Palestinian terrorists for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit] at the time, but my position is known,” he said.

“I don’t see any reason to retract my opposition, unless there are changes that I am unaware of,” Liberman said.

The high-level security cabinet was set to convene on Wednesday to approve the deal.

Another minister, who was not named in press accounts. reportedly also criticized the deal.

“It’s a contemptible move that the prime minister is bringing before the cabinet as a fait accomplit,” the minister was quoted by Israeli news site Ynet saying. “He’s turned us into a rubber stamp.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked denied there was any link between the compensation and the Mavi Marmara incident.

“IDF soldiers defended themselves and I am proud of them. This is not compensation to those terrorists,” Channel 2 quoted her saying.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefs the press on a reconciliation deal with Turkey on Monday, June 27, 2016 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefs the press on a reconciliation deal with Turkey on Monday, June 27, 2016 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip would remain in place following the deal but Turkey would be able to send supplies to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Netanyahu made the comments in Rome, broadcast live in Israel, after Israel and Turkey agreed on the highly anticipated pact. His Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, made a simultaneous announcement in Ankara.

The agreement would secure the “continuation of the maritime security blockade off the Gaza Strip coast,” Netanyahu said.

“This is a supreme security interest for us. I was not prepared to compromise on it,” he added. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep out material that could be used for military purposes in the Strip, which is run by the terror group Hamas.

Netanyahu said Turkey under the deal was also committed to preventing plans for terrorism and the financing of terrorism against Israel from its territory.

The deal also stipulates that Turkey will be allowed to build a power station and desalination plant in Gaza.

“We are returning to full normalization with Turkey, including the return of ambassadors,” Netanyahu said in announcing the rapprochement.

The deal will allow Turkey to deliver aid to Palestinians living in Gaza, Yildirim told a press conference. “To this end, our first ship loaded with over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will leave for Israel’s Ashdod port on Friday.”

The deal will see the two countries exchange ambassadors “as soon as possible,” he said.

Netanyahu said Turkey would also now not act to prevent Israeli participation in international forums of which it is a member, notably including NATO.

The deal did not, however, entail Ankara shutting down the offices maintained by Hamas leaders in Turkey, a key Israeli demand.

Once tight, already frayed relations between Israel and Turkey were significantly downgraded in 2010 after Israeli commandos staged a raid on a six-ship Turkish flotilla which was trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Strip.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announces his country's rapprochement deal with Israel on Monday, June 27, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announces his country’s rapprochement deal with Israel on Monday, June 27, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)

The commandos were violently attacked by those on board the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and nine Turkish citizens, including one with American citizenship, were killed in the ensuing melee. A tenth died of his wounds years later. A number of Israeli soldiers were injured in the raid.

Under the deal Israel will pay $20 million in compensation for the deaths caused in the commando raid, Yildirim confirmed. In return for the compensation, Turkey agreed not to take legal action against IDF soldiers involved in the incident.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, dismissed criticism by political opponents who decried the paying of compensation to attackers of IDF soldiers as a national humiliation.

“Our vital interests are advanced by this deal,” he said. “This isn’t the start of a honeymoon. And I’m not presenting this agreement through rose-colored glasses. But this agreement strengthens Israel.”

He said the deal could not have been done sooner, because “it took time” to achieve “the terms we needed.”

With the world and the region so volatile, he said, Israel needed to strengthen alliances with partners such as Greece, Cyprus, Russia, and now Turkey, “all this in full coordination” with its key ally, the United States.

Netanyahu on Monday called US Vice President Joe Biden to “thank him for encouraging normalization talks between Israel and Turkey,” a statement from the White House said.

“The vice president congratulated the prime minister for progress toward reconciliation with Turkey, noting the significant positive security and economic benefits for both countries and the wider Eastern Mediterranean region,” it said.

Agencies and Raphael Ahren contributed to his report.

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