Sometimes an apology is just an apology!
On May 31, 2010, the Israeli government murdered nine civilians aboard the Mavi Marmara – a flotilla seeking to provide humanitarian aid to illegally besieged Gaza – in cold blood, left dozens of volunteers injured, confiscated the vessel and detained activists from various countries until Turkey intervened.
Over the past three years, Israeli officials not only dismissed demands for an apology regarding the civilian deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara, but also actively sought to prove that their action was legitimate and justified. The Mavi Marmara massacre severed already-tense diplomatic relations between the two governments. Turkey had three demands: an official apology, compensation and the lifting of the military siege on Gaza. Israeli authorities have continuously rejected these demands.
At the time that Israel attacked the flotilla, the Arab revolutions had not yet taken place. As such, the Israeli government still lived in a world shaped by the Camp David order. One of their neighbors was Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for almost 30 years. Another was Bashar al-Assad, also known as Israel’s comfortable enemy, who exerted unequivocal power over his country. Yet another neighbor, the king of Jordan, was enjoying his throne without any real problems as the luckiest man in the Middle East. His most loyal business partner, the diabolical Omar Suleiman, lived in Cairo. The Palestine Papers that laid out the scandalous nature of the “peace talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority had not yet been leaked. Similarly, there was no WikiLeaks yet. The only “certain” thing then, as it is now, was that Iran had plans to attack Israel over the next couple of months – like it has had for the last 20 years.
Since the Mavi Marmara massacre, almost everything in the region has turned upside down. On March 22, 2013, precisely 1,206 days after the flotilla raid, Israel announced that it would accept Turkey’s terms and apologize for its conduct. Israel’s belated apology sent a clear message: it confessed to the crimes it committed, agreed to pay reparations to victims’ families and declared that it would deliberate, with Turkey, on lifting the siege on Gaza. As such, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accepted Israel’s apology. He later announced that the Turkish government would monitor Israel’s conduct before diplomatic relations could be returned to normal. At the same time, U.S. President Barack Obama was able to put an end to a longstanding personal feud with Benjamin Netanyahu by compelling his counterpart to issue an apology. This marked the second instance – along with the U.N.’s recognition of Palestine’s statehood a few months ago – that Israel had to take a step back over a short period of time.
The belated apology restored bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel to their pre-Mavi Marmara and post-Davos levels. Just to be clear, the post-Davos diplomatic relations were minimal, without any real content. Therefore, what we witness today is only a small step toward the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations. Whatever happens, relations between the two countries cannot and will not reach the high level of cooperation between Turkey’s pro-coup elites and Israel in the late 1990s. The Israeli occupation, the sole obstacle before Turkey-Israeli relations, can be fully restored. It is exactly for this reason that sometimes a belated apology is just an apology.