Turkey on Wednesday said that reaching a deal at upcoming talks with Israel to normalize relations after years of bitter animosity depended on steps taken by the Jewish state.
“Whether a deal can be reached at the first upcoming meeting depends on the steps to be taken by Israel,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara.
He did not give the date of the meeting although press reports have said it would take place on Sunday.
Already-tense relations between former allies Israel and Turkey were significantly downgraded after Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a vessel in a six-ship flotilla in May 2010 as it tried to run the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza. The commandos boarded the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, which was the only vessel in the flotilla to ignore repeated calls to halt, and were attacked with clubs and metal bars as they hit the deck. Nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara were killed in the ensuing fighting, with a tenth later dying of his wounds, sparking a bitter diplomatic crisis. Several IDF soldiers were seriously wounded in the fighting aboard the ship.
Two of Turkey’s key conditions for normalization — an apology and compensation — were largely met in the years since, leaving its third demand, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, as the main obstacle. The blockade is designed to prevent Hamas, the Islamist terror group that still runs Gaza, from importing weaponry.
Cavusoglu seemed to indicate Wednesday that the third demand was still in force.
“Our conditions are not very complicated, they are plain conditions,” Cavusoglu said. “They need to be fulfilled the same as our apology demand.”
But according to Arab media reports, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned Hamas leaders in recent days to inform them that Turkey had backed off the last demand as it sought to seal the reconciliation deal.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, considered a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sounded an optimistic tone Wednesday about the impending agreement.
“I want to express unequivocal support for the efforts that are being made at this very moment for a new normalization and renewed diplomatic ties with Turkey,” he told Army Radio, linking the agreement to the possibility of energy exports.
“The option to export gas to Turkey is a very good one, but Turkey is also linked by a pipeline to Europe. When you connect to Turkey, you can export natural gas to Europe,” Steinitz said.