Further chill in ties if Israel rebuffs apology
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 7/24/2011 12:00:00 AM | Serkan Demirtaş
The prime minister acknowledges Ankara’s ‘Plan B’ to further freeze ties with Israel if its conditions, including an apology, are not met
The Turkish government has for the first time voiced the existence of its “Plan B” against Israel if no apology comes before a July 27 deadline, a plan that will include measures to further freeze relations.
The statement comes amid an ongoing debate in the Israeli Cabinet over whether or not to formally apologize to Turkey over last year’s Mavi Marmara incident.
“We are going to wait for their [Israel’s] decision for a period of time. Then [if no apology comes], we will surely implement our Plan B,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters Saturday at a joint press conference with Jordanian Prime Minister Maroof al-Bakhit.
Erdoğan’s statement came just a day before the Israeli Cabinet was to hold a key meeting on the matter. Relations have been strained between Turkey and Israel since Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish people May 31, 2010, aboard a vessel carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza.
Ankara has demanded that Israel issue a formal apology, pay compensation to the families of the victims and lift its sea blockade on Gaza if it wants to mend ties with Turkey. A U.N. panel is set to announce its report on the May 31 incident on July 27, barring last-minute delays.
According to information obtained by the Hürriyet Daily News, the “Plan B” mentioned by Erdoğan will have a strong impact on further degrading relations between the two countries. One of the most important moves would be further reducing Turkey’s level of diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv. After the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey canceled the appointment of Kerim Uras as ambassador to Tel Aviv in a show of reaction. If Israel refuses to apologize, the current level of diplomatic representation, charge d’affairs, would be reduced to the level of second secretary.
Diplomatic sources told the Daily News on Sunday, however, that the government in Ankara was still hopeful about seeing an Israeli apology and that in order not to give a wrong message, Uras’ appointment to a post other than Israel had once again been postponed. Uras was excluded from the Foreign Ministry’s summer reshuffle, signaling that he would still be appointed to Tel Aviv if relations normalized.
Reducing Turkey’s diplomatic representation would also affect Israel’s plans to appoint an ambassador to Ankara in the upcoming months if current envoy Gabby Levy’s plans to return his country can be carried out. Israel fears its new envoy would not be able to get a credential from Ankara if relations remain frozen.
[HH]Trip to Gaza
Erdoğan had previously announced plans to visit Gaza but said this trip had nothing to do with the current crisis with Israel. The Daily News has learned, however, that this was part of the government’s Plan B.
“We are not aiming to create an environment of tension. Our friends [in the Foreign Ministry] are going to be working on it and this trip [to Gaza] will be realized if these works reveal a positive development,” Erdoğan told reporters. “It would be wrong to consider this linked to apology, compensation or lifting [of the Gaza] blockade.”
Erdoğan plans to enter to Gaza through the Rafah border with Egypt after a visit to Cairo in the coming months. The date of his visit to Cairo has not yet been fixed.
The prime minister’s statement about a possible Gaza visit has the potential to cause concerns in the West, particularly in the United States, especially as it comes before Palestine’s planned application to the United Nations in September to be recognized as a sovereign state.
Ankara is also mulling a number of other diplomatic and legal measures that would have serious effects on its ties with Israel. However, the government prefers to see the U.N. panel’s final report and make an in-depth analysis to decide on future steps against Israel, especially in the field of international jurisdiction.