The reconciliation deal with Turkey will dramatically boost Israel’s economy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday during a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, hours before he was expected to present the full terms of the agreement.
“I think it’s an important step here to normalize relations on one side. It has also immense implications for the Israeli economy… and I mean positive immense implications,” Netanyahu said, sitting next to Kerry at the American embassy in Rome.
The prime minister hinted that Israel’s natural gas reserves were a crucial element of the pact with Turkey, but did not elaborate.
Requiring months of negotiations, the rapprochement agreement is repair years of bristly relations following a deadly IDF 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
Previously tight relations between Israel and Turkey were significantly downgraded after Israeli commandos staged a raid on the six-ship flotilla –which was trying to breach Israel’s security blockade of the Hamas-run Strip — intercepting the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara.
The commandos were violently attacked by those on board, 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.
Kerry congratulated Netanyahu on having reached the deal with Turkey, mentioning the United States’ contribution to the detente.
“I think when President Obama came to Israel, there was a famous phone call on the tarmac of the airport to Turkey, as we tried to move things forward,” Kerry said, recalling how the president urged Netanyahu to call Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologize for the flotilla incident. Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan was a key condition for the reconciliation deal.
“So this is coming full circle, and Mr. Prime Minister, I congratulate you. I know your team has been working long and hard at this. I think it’s a positive step, one of, I hope, the beginning of others,” Kerry said.
Under the reported terms of the deal, Israel will allow the completion of a hospital in Gaza, as well as the construction of a new power station and a desalination plant for drinking water.
Turkey has also committed to keeping terror group Hamas from carrying out activities against Israel from its country, Hebrew-language media reported Sunday.
While opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Monday that restoring relations with Turkey was “an important diplomatic goal,” he slammed Netanyahu for agreeing to pay $20 million in compensation for the families of the Turkish victims of the Mavi Marmara raid.
“The deal with Turkey follows a pattern we have gotten used to with the prime minster: He starts with grandiose statements, follows up with promises, and then ends with a U-turn,” Herzog said in a statement. “To pay compensation to those who attacked IDF soldiers beggars belief.”
Fellow Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit said, “Once again Mr. Security strengthens the radicals and weakens Israel.”
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi of Netanyahu’s Likud party defended the deal against the criticism, saying that Turkey would have been required to do the same if the situation were reversed.
“If Israelis had been killed then the Turkish would have to pay compensation,” he told Army Radio Monday. “It’s a basic tenet in the culture of dialog that leads to an agreement.”
The agreement is set to go before Israel’s top-level security cabinet for approval on Wednesday, according to an Israeli official who requested anonymity.
Netanyahu and Kerry’s Monday morning meeting came after they dined together on Sunday night, discussing various regional and bilateral issues.
“We had a very long meeting last night in which we discussed many different issues, but we focused significantly on the challenge of beating back terrorism and beating back terrorism specifically with respect to Israel’s challenge in the Sinai, in the Golan Heights, where [the Islamic State group] is now visible, positioned in places, and also the challenge of violence stemming from extremism in Gaza and the West Bank,” Kerry said.
Hailing his meeting with Netanyahu as “very productive,” the secretary of state said that they discussed “ways in which we might be able to try to work to move things in more positive directions.”
Netanyahu was somewhat more precise, saying that he discussed with Kerry “how we can advance the process with the Palestinians, difficult though it may be.”
AFP contributed to this report.