Obama to push for Israel-Turkey reconciliation

Israel says it’s willing to take steps, but is unsure whether Erdogan is interested in mending ties

File: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, with US President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting in 2011. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
File: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, with US President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting in 2011. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

US President Barack Obama will demand Israel and Turkey take steps toward repairing relations during his upcoming trip to Israel, diplomatic sources told Channel 2 news Monday night.

According to the report, Obama desires the two former allies make amends, as the current rift is proving an obstacle for US policies on Iran and Syria. The sources told Channel 2 that Obama considers the formation of a new government, which includes centrists like Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni and a diminished role for the hawkish Avigdor Liberman, is a good opportunity to heal the ties between Jerusalem and Ankara.

The report also cited NATO sources approaching Israel with a similar message.

Israel and Turkey enjoyed close diplomatic and business relations for years, but a gradual deterioration in ties was accelerated with the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, in which clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and IDF troops aboard the Gaza blockade-busting Mavi Marmara ship resulted in the deaths of nine activists, eight of them Turkish citizens, and injuries to several Israeli soldiers.

Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have since remained sour, with Turkey demanding an apology, and compensation for the families of those killed, as prerequisites for the renewal of ties.

The report said that senior Turkish opposition officials have urged Israel not to apologize as Erdogan only seeks to humiliate Israel on the international stage.

The response from Jerusalem was that Israel is open to taking the necessary steps if similar pressure is placed on the Turkish leadership, but that it is unsure whether Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is willing to mend relations.

In February, Erdogan sparked international condemnation when he described Zionism as a “crime against humanity” on par with anti-Semitism and fascism. Israel, the US, Germany and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took Erdogan to task for his comments, as did numerous Jewish and international human rights groups.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also censured his Turkish counterpart. “This is a dark and mendacious statement the likes of which we thought had passed from the world,” he said.

On Monday, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her voice to the chorus, saying, “The reports of what he said are unacceptable. Those remarks said by anybody would be unacceptable to the EU, now and forever.”

Earlier this month, Turkey upgraded its diplomatic mission to Ramallah, appointing an ambassador to the “State of Palestine.”

Though the Palestinians enjoy non-member state status at the United Nations, a “State of Palestine” is not recognized by most countries.

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