Turkey: Israel hinting flexibility on Gaza closure, but no deal yet

Netanyahu vows naval blockade will continue, while top Israeli official says reconciliation agreement ‘isn’t even half-baked’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

File: Israeli activists demonstrate across from the Prime Minister's Residence demanding to end the blockade on Gaza, April 29, 2015 (photo credit: Free Jerusalem Facebook page)
File: Israeli activists demonstrate across from the Prime Minister's Residence demanding to end the blockade on Gaza, April 29, 2015 (photo credit: Free Jerusalem Facebook page)

Israel is showing flexibility on easing elements of its blockade on the Gaza Strip as part of a reconciliation process between Jerusalem and Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a meeting of his party this week. But, he said, there was still no agreement between the two countries, whose former friendship has eroded into enmity in recent years.

“There is progress,” Davutoglu told the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the meeting Sunday, “but there is still no deal.”

“They are not yet prepared to lift the blockade on Gaza entirely,” he said, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported Monday. “But they’ve reached the point where they assume they can ease it for Turkey’s sake. The Israelis have said they might not prevent aid from reaching Gaza.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also told a Likud faction meeting Monday that “we’re not there yet” on an agreement with Turkey, according to a senior official who was present, Haaretz reported.

“The agreement isn’t even half-baked,” the senior official said.

Israel has maintained a military blockade on the Gaza Strip, designed to prevent the import of weaponry, since the Palestinian terror group Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

Netanyahu said differences still remained over issues such as Hamas activity in Turkey and Israel’s policy on the Gaza closure. Senior officials also emphasized that Netanyahu’s words were aimed at lowering expectations after what they described as an exaggerated tone in messages from the Prime Minister’s Office in recent days.

Netanyahu told Knesset members that Turkey had expelled Saleh al-Arouri, a senior figure in Hamas’ military arm. Arouri established the organization’s headquarters in Istanbul and operated terror cells on the West Bank from there.

The prime minister said, however, that the headquarters had continued to function after Arouri was thrown out. “Arouri’s expulsion isn’t enough for us,” he said. “We want to be sure that there are no terror activities against Israel from Turkey.”

The Turkish leader said that Israel was also willing to be accommodating over Ankara’s demands for compensation for families of those killed or hurt during an IDF raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010.

“Regarding compensation, one has to act according to international standards,” he said. “We want the solution to be in total accord with those standards. Israel also showed flexibility with regard to that.”

Davutoglu said the Israelis had shown renewed interest in a reconciliation deal after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) regained the majority it lost in June and rode to victory in the Turkish general elections on November 1. “They gave up on a few subjects when they saw that the Justice and Development Party would stay in power until 2019.”

Relations between Jerusalem and Ankara broke down after the Israeli Navy intercepted a flotilla which was seeking to breach Israel’s security blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in May 2010. The Israeli raid ended with nine dead Turkish activists and dozens wounded, after Naval commandos were attacked with clubs and poles as they boarded the vessel.

File: The Mavi Marmara is towed by a tugboat as it leaves the port of the northern city of Haifa, August 5, 2010. (Herzl Shapira/Flash90)
File: The Mavi Marmara is towed by a tugboat as it leaves the port of the northern city of Haifa, August 5, 2010. (Herzl Shapira/Flash90)

Tension between the countries, already high, escalated further, and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister, recalled his ambassador. Israel recalled its own ambassador in retaliation and Turkey also began legal proceedings against senior IDF officials, including then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and then Navy commander Eliezer Marom.

Reconciliation talks resumed in June after a break of more than a year.

On Monday, Netanyahu dismissed the Turkish demand for a total lifting of the Gaza blockade and told his faction: “We won’t change the policy of the naval closure.We’re transferring equipment to Gaza and helping with its rehabilitation, but we won’t give up on our security.”

Regarding compensation, he said Israel had already agreed to put $20 million into a special fund which will be created for the purpose, he said.

Channel 2 news reported on Monday evening that Netanyahu had promised the Egyptians not to let up on the naval blockade, after Egypt requested that Israel not grant Turkey any influence in the Strip.

Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas figure, meanwhile told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency Monday that an Israeli-Turkish reconciliation deal will have a positive effect on Gaza and will allow Turkey to continue its efforts to rehabilitate areas decimated during 2014 Operation Protective Edge, Walla reported Monday.

In July, a panel of senior IDF officers told Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that they thought the path to long-lasting quiet in the Gaza Strip lay through a partial lifting of the blockade, combined with measures to increase freedom of movement and stimulate the coastal area’s dire economic straits.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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