Turkey wants unrestricted access to Gaza from Israel
REUTERS photoIt’s been nearly a week since news broke about secret talks between Turkish and Israeli officials in a bid to accomplish the normalization process by sealing a long-negotiated deal. Having already secured a formal apology, Turkey has long been waiting for Israel to fulfill the remaining two conditions: paying compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims and removing the blockade on Gaza.
However, a leaked document on Israeli media has suggested that the talks also included negotiations on some Hamas members allegedly residing in Turkey and carrying Israeli natural gas through pipelines via Turkey.
In a meeting with a senior government official, I had to chance to better understand how Turkey views these talks and whether this leaked information was real. Therefore, the information I will cite here is how Ankara regards the process:
From the very beginning of Israeli-Turkish negotiations, Turkey had insisted on three conditions and this position is still valid. Israel formally apologized to Turkey and is ready to pay the compensation as agreed. The last condition is the removal of the blockade on Gaza. Turkey’s condition from Israel is to get “unrestricted access” to Gaza for its all sorts of assistance to Palestinians. Turkey is determined to not accept any sort of restriction on Turkish assistance to Gaza.
The Hamas condition, as suggested by the Israeli media, does not exist. Ankara believes that Israel leaked this distorted information to the media with the purpose of measuring public reaction and to show Israeli public opinion that Israel is forcing Turkey to deport Saleeh al-Aruri, although this person was not in Turkey. Otherwise, ongoing talks of an agreement with Israel do not include anything on Hamas.
Hamas welcomes Turkey-Israel talks
As can be recalled, only a few days after the news broke about Turkish-Israeli talks, Hamas leader Khaleed Meshal paid a snap visit to Turkey and held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Again according to information provided by the official, Hamas is not unhappy about the talks between Turkey and Israel. On the contrary, they are aware that Turkey’s access to Gaza to provide aid to Palestinians will be much more efficient and comprehensive in the case an agreement is secured. The timing of this visit was not directly related with this development, according to the official, recalling that Meshal paid numerous visits to Turkey in the past even at the most difficult times. Ankara does also recall that almost all international actors acknowledge the fact that Hamas should be part of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as the group will play a crucial role in the implementation of a potential agreement. Ankara also thinks the United States is also of this opinion on Hamas.
‘Israel should come to us for the pipe-line’
Another much-discussed aspect of these talks was whether the two parties have also tried to secure a deal on the transportation of Israeli reserves to European markets via Turkey through a pipeline.
The negotiated agreement does not envisage a partnership in the field of energy and this issue has nothing to do with a document that guarantees the fulfilment of Turkish conditions. This is an issue that can be discussed later; however, in that case, it must be Israel who seeks Turkish willingness to join this project. It will not be the Turkish part that will run after Israeli reserves. Another point Ankara is drawing attention to is the fact that the demarcation of exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean has not been completed, meaning that cooperation between the two countries will take a while.
Why has Israel delayed the process?
Assessments in Ankara suggest that the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel has long been delayed because of the latter’s choices. The process could have been concluded in 2013 after Israel apologized to Turkey but the Gezi protests of June and July of the same year and the launch of a massive corruption and graft investigation into a number of senior government officials in December 2013 led Israeli to think the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was failing.
The coup d’état in Egypt staged by el-Sisi has been another factor in Israel’s change of mind, as they thought they had won a strong regional ally and therefore didn’t need Turkey for their regional interests.
Then came the elections both in Israel and in Turkey. Ankara believes that Israel lost its appetite for a deal in the aftermath of June 7 polls in which the AKP failed to get the required majority to form a single party government but had to change this stance after the Nov. 1 success of the AKP.
Will Turkey continue to slam Israel?
Ongoing talks between the parties have also witnessed an Israeli concern delivered on the Turkish part. It has been learned that Israeli officials have told their counterparts that “Turkey criticizes Israel very much. We are concerned if this would continue even after the deal.” For Ankara, however, normalization of ties with Israel does not necessarily mean that Turkey will cease criticizing Israel, especially if it holds operations in Gaza. The volume and the tone of the Turkish criticism will depend on Israeli attitude towards Palestinians, even in the new era between the two countries.