Israeli PM apologizes to Turkey after Obama push
The Mavi Marmara is the Turkish aid ship that was boarded by Israeli commandos while attempting to break the blockade on Gaza. Hürriyet photo
Israel issued a formal apology to Turkey and agreed to pay compensation over the Mavi Marmara killings of 2010 on March 22 after a phone conversation between the two countries’ premiers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that was brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Turkey accepted Israel’s apology, sources from the Prime Ministry confirmed, underlining that Israel had also agreed to ease its blockade on Gaza.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed an apology to the Turkish people for any error that may have led to the loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement for compensation,” the Israeli statement said. The statement said Netanyahu agreed with Erdoğan to normalize ties between Turkey and Israel, while Ankara agreed to cancel legal proceedings against Israeli soldiers who committed the raid against the Mavi Marmara vessel.
“The Israeli prime minister apologized on behalf of the Israeli people and our prime minister accepted the apology on behalf of the Turkish people,” said a statement issued by the Turkish Prime Ministry.
“The two prime ministers have agreed to make an agreement on compensation [and pursuing further legal action],” said the statement, adding that Israel agreed to remove restrictions on the passage of humanitarian goods to Gaza.
Erdoğan also expressed his regret over the deterioration of ties that he described as “vital and strategic for regional peace and stability” and reiterated Turkey’s support for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
According to the Israeli statement, Netanyahu told Erdoğan that he had good talks with Obama on the issue of regional cooperation and the importance of Israeli-Turkish relations. The prime minister also expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral relations and noted his commitment to working out disagreements in order to advance peace and regional stability.
Zionism crisis averted
The Israeli statement also said Netanyahu appreciated Erdoğan’s recent clarification of his controversial remarks on Zionism to a Danish newspaper.
“The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life. In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation,” it read.
Netanyahu also said Israel had already lifted several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and added that this would continue as long as the quiet is maintained. The two leaders also agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.
Importance of strong friendship and partnership
Netanyahu read the statement to Erdoğan during the phone conversation and expressed the word of “apology” with his wishes to normalize ties between the two countries, Turkish sources said. In return, Erdoğan noted the importance of the strong friendship and cooperation between the Jewish and Turkish people in their phone conversation.
Turkey had frozen its ties with Israel after the latter refused to apologize and pay compensation to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara tragedy that claimed the lives of nine Turkish citizens on board the vessel, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Turkey and Israel conducted secret diplomatic talks on several occasions but failed to agree over the terms of the apology at the last minute. The earlier negotiations conducted by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry undersecretary, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, and Netanyahu’s chief adviser, Joseph Ciechanover, were suspended due to a disagreement within the Israeli coalition government, as hardliners in the Israeli government pressed Netanyahu not to apologize but express regret over the killings. Netanyahu, who has formed a new government but has delayed appointing a foreign minister because his coalition partner, ex-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is facing serious corruption claims, used the opportunity to overcome a major problem in his foreign policy agenda.
US mediation brought apology
Already isolated in the region, Israel sees reconciliation with Turkey as necessary, especially when both counties’ common neighbor, Syria, is experiencing significant turmoil that could spill beyond the country’s borders. Obama’s visit to the region sparked expectations that the U.S. would exert strong pressure on both sides, and the phone call between Erdoğan and Netanyahu came as the Israeli prime minister was traveling with Obama on March 22.
However, Turkish sources said the talks for a potential Israeli move started on March 20, the day Obama landed in Israel.
The phone conversation of Turkish and Israeli leaders was announced by the White House just before Obama was set to leave Israel late afternoon on March 22.
“The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” Obama said in the statement released by the White House just before he ended a visit to Israel.
“I am hopeful that today’s exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities,” the president said.
Turkey, Israel to work together for Gaza
Turkey and Israel also agreed to jointly work to improve the humanitarian conditions of Gaza, part of a bid to fulfill Turkey’s third condition of reconciling with Israel. Israel has already shown flexibility in easing its blockade on Gaza after a week-long military operation into Gaza. In one gesture, Israel allowed the passage of Turkish trucks carrying construction materials to Gaza to be used in building a hospital in the enclave.
With the apology and the agreement to normalize ties, the first step both sides could consider is increasing the level of diplomatic representation and appointing ambassadors to each other’s capitals. Sources, however, said this would still take time as the reconciliation process will follow a road map to be crafted by both sides’ diplomats.