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MURAT YETKİN > Israeli apology, the background story

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According to high-ranking sources, the diplomacy that resulted in an Israeli apology to Turkey over the Turks killed by Israeli soldiers in 2010 started some two weeks ago. American diplomats told their Turkish counterparts that U.S. President Barack Obama wanted to have an end to the Turkish-Israeli rift and wanted to open the subject up to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel, if Turkey wanted an agreement, too.

In the background of the latest U.S. moves there were many two incident on the same day. On Feb. 28 Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking at an international conference in Vienna said that Zionism was a “crime against humanity” like fascism, which triggered reaction in Israel and among the Israeli lobby in the U.S. and Europe. The same day U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a joint press conference with his Turkish host Ahmet Davutoğlu that the U.S. and Turkey do not share the same views on Israel.

On March 12, 89 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to Erdoğan and asked him to retract his words on Zionism, which he did not; he said he stood behind what he said but he had been misunderstood.

It seems that letter triggered the U.S. move, since the White House wanted to see its two main allies in the region work together once again as they did until the “one minute” incident in Davos in 2009.

As Ankara said they could accept the good offices of the U.S. to have an agreement with Israel, based on an apology, the diplomacy started. Before the start of Obama’s visit on March 20, diplomatic drafts about the terms of a possible agreement started to go back and forth between Ankara and Jerusalem under the auspices of U.S. diplomacy. 

The first positive step of goodwill, as a confidence-building measure, was taken as Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, the head of the Turkish Union of Chambers of Commerce (TOBB) was appointed as the head of the Arbitration Commission in disputes between Palestinian and Israeli businessmen on March 17.

The fact that there is still not a name for the new Israeli Foreign Ministry and Netanyahu assumes the office because of the corruption trial of Avigdor Lieberman, who opposes any apology to Turkey, made it easier for the Americans to get the deal closed.

At around 4 p.m. on March 22, Obama in Jerusalem in his last hours there called up Erdoğan. Following niceties, he passed the phone to Netanyahu. The two prime ministers agreed to issue the same statement in their capitals that would clarify an Israeli apology and compensation for the families of the Turks who were killed. Turkey softened its attitude on the third condition for an agreement, which was an end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Netanyahu, who takes the issue as its right of sovereignty, said Israel had already softened the embargo on Gaza since the revolution in Egypt and would take further steps depending on the situation in Gaza. The final text says anyway that Israel would take Turkish assistance in dealings with the Palestinians.

Following the conversation of around half an hour, Obama took the phone back, told Erdoğan that he was glad to see this happening and said “See you soon,” which was actually a sign that Erdoğan would get a White House appointment soon.

There is another interesting dimension of U.S. diplomacy between Turkey and Israel. Hours before the final move for an Israeli apology, the U.S. State Department issued a statement praising Erdoğan’s initiative to start a dialogue for a political solution to the Kurdish problem that resulted in a call by the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to stop its armed campaign.

There is one thing to be noted: Determination when you are right brings success. This is a success of the determination of the Erdoğan government regarding its policy on Israel. It also proved that Israel, despite the full backing of the U.S. government suffered more than Turkey because of the lack of relations between them. For the first time since its establishment in 1948, Israel regrets a military action.

This agreement will change the political balances of the whole region and will have implications on cases like Syria, Iran, Iraq and possibly Cyprus.

March/23/2013

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