Money, Gaza blockade hold up Israel-Turkey rapprochement

Erdogan demands $1 million for each of the activists killed on the Mavi Marmara, a lifting of the naval embargo on the Strip

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the parliament in Ankara (photo credit: AP/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the parliament in Ankara (photo credit: AP/Burhan Ozbilici)

Days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for “any operational errors” committed during the 2010 storming of the Mavi Marmara and promised to pay compensation, on Wednesday it appeared that an agreement between the two estranged countries was snagged over the sum of the payment to the families of those who died in the skirmish.

Turkey is demanding $1 million for each of the families of the nine Turkish citizens who were killed after activists attacked IDF commandos who commandeered the boat, which was attempting to break the Israeli naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Israel has said it is willing to pay $100,000 to the families, and the enormous gulf between the expectations of the two countries has prompted officials to establish a commission to resolve the matter.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is the most senior minister in the government with substantial diplomatic experience, discussed the issue with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday, and the two agreed to set up a committee that would finalize the extent of the compensation package. Former Turkish ambassador to Israel Feridun Sinirlioglu, who is currently an undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, will serve as the committee’s co-chair together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, and his special envoy, attorney Joseph Ciechanover.

The committee is set to convene in the coming days.

In 2012, Israel agreed to pay a lump sum into a special Turkish humanitarian fund that would then distribute the money among the families of the activists; however, the amount to be paid was not settled. Israel has also suggested paying out the same amount that the Turkish government gives to the families of Turkish soldiers who die in the line of duty — about 125,000 Turkish liras, or some $70,000.

In the final minutes of last week’s visit to the region by US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer an apology for the deadly raid that brought the already rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries to a new nadir. Prior to the rise of Erdogan and his Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party, Israel and Turkey enjoyed several decades of robust ties.

Erdogan has consistently and sometimes vehemently opposed Israel in the international arena. Late last month, he compared Zionism to anti-Semitism and other “war crimes,” precipitating a torrent of criticism from Israel and the international community.

On Tuesday, Erdogan outlined Turkey’s conditions for full normalization with Israel. In addition to an apology over the Marmara episode and compensation to the victims, Turkey was also insisting that Israel lift its naval blockage of Gaza, he told lawmakers in the Turkish parliament.

The Turkish leader called the Israeli apology a “victory” for his country and its allies in the region, including Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported. Erdogan also noted that his phone conversation with Netanyahu had been recorded to make the “process safe.” While the apology was initially welcomed as an important first step toward patching up relations, Erdogan on Tuesday said that an Israeli refusal to lift the blockade would be a deal-breaker.

Netanyahu, according to the Prime Minister’s Office account of the phone call, did not agree to lift the blockade. Netanyahu told Erdogan ”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,” Friday’s PMO statement said. “The two leaders agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.”

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