Netanyahu: Normalization with Turkey ‘very close’

Agreement could be ironed out as early as next week, report says, although several unresolved issues remain

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on March 31, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on March 31, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Israel and Turkey are “very close” to mending their fences, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told visiting American congressmen on Monday.

Jerusalem is waiting to set a date for a decisive meeting at which both sides’ negotiating teams are supposed to iron out the final issues of dispute, Haaretz reported Tuesday. Expectations are that the teams will meet in a European capital next week.

A senior Israeli official was quoted as saying that all the unresolved issues revolved around the draft of a compromise over Israel’s demand that Turkey close the Istanbul offices of the Hamas terror organization.

Among overtures by Turkey in recent weeks, Ankara withdrew its opposition to closer ties between Israel and NATO, the official said. Furthermore, for the first time in five years, the Turks sent Foreign Ministry officials to an annual reception at Israel’s embassy in Ankara.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the 37th World Zionist Congress conference at the Jerusalem Convention Center on October 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The meeting was originally scheduled for two weeks ago but was postponed because of the resignation and replacement of Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Netanyahu reportedly repeated his optimistic assertion three times, saying renewed ties would help the two countries advance shared regional interests, even though there would be no return to the relationship’s heyday of some 10 years ago.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ankara that Israel had agreed to fulfill two of Turkey’s three conditions for normalization. Israel would apologize for the deaths of Turkish nationals in an IDF raid on a Gaza-bound ship in 2010 and had agreed to pay $20 million in compensation to the injured and the families of those killed, he said.

Israel’s lifting of an embargo on the Gaza Strip, the third condition, was important, Kurtulmus stressed, and both countries have agreed to allow Turkish involvement in the creation of infrastructure projects and the rehabilitation of the enclave.

Ankara had offered to moor a ship in Ashdod port to supply electricity to energy-strapped Gaza, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month. But Israel countered with a proposed German project to build a power plant within the Strip instead.

“We said that could be possible,” said Erdogan. “We still haven’t given up on the ship. Israel is also positive toward our proposal to address Gaza’s water problem through water desalination plants or wells. There is also a need for schools and hospitals. We are seeking donors. Some have promised to contribute.”

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