'This is just the beginning,’ says Obama about Israel's apology
U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a joint news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah at Al-Hummar Palace, in Amman, March 22, 2013. REUTERS photo"This is a work in progress. It's just the beginning," said U.S. President Barack Obama during a press conference with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman on March 22 after U.S. officials mediated Israel's formal apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara raid.
Obama said he had spoken with the Turkish and Israeli prime ministers for the last two years about finding a way for reconciliation. He added that both he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw his visit to Israel as a good opportunity for restoring ties between the two countries. "The timing was good for that conversation [with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] to take place and both of us agreed the moment was right to begin the process of rebuilding" he said.
Obama also said Erdoğan and Netanyahu "don't have to agree on everything in order for them to come together on a wide range of common interests and concerns," referring to joint regional security projects.
Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said March 22 that the United States welcomes the steps undertaken for the normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel following the latter's apology for the Mavi Marmara. Nuland added that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had been in close contact with officials from both countries since earlier this month, when he visited Turkey.
She also noted that Obama had repeatedly called on Netanyahu to take such steps regarding his Turkish counterpart. "We hoped that [Obama's Israel visit] would create an opportunity for such a step, and we are very pleased that [these steps] have been made," she told reporters during a press briefing.
Nuland said the relations between Turkey and Israel were important for the United States. "Both countries are our close friends and partners. We always said that because both are democracies, their ties are very important for the security and partnership of the region. We hope that [the apology] will pave the way for solving the remaining differences," she said.
EU and NATO express satisfaction
The European Union and NATO also welcomed Israel's apology March 22. "We have been very pleased with the news on this positive step. Turkey and Israel are very important partners of the EU and the healing of their relations is in the interest of whoever wants to see security and peace in the Middle East," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's spokesperson Michael Mann told Anatolia news agency. Mann added that the EU encouraged quick steps to consolidate the normalization of ties.
NATO has also expressed its satisfaction over the Israeli prime minister's formal apology. "We naturally welcome this step that will move forward the regional dialogue and stability," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told Anatolia news agency.
The British Foreign Office also issued a statement welcoming Israel's decision. "Both countries are important allies of Britain," the statement read.
Turkey won a big victory: Hamas PM
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Turkey had won a big victory over Israel after the latter’s apology March 22. "Israel will keep its promise to Turkey and lift the Gaza blockade," said Haniyeh, speaking during the commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the death of the Palestinian group's founder, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Haniyeh also announced that Erdoğan would visit Gaza soon.
Palestinian government spokesperson Nour Odeh also welcomed Turkey's insistence on lifting the Gaza blockade. "The Turkish government and its people have showed that it stood with the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people," Odeh told Anatolia news agency March 22.
The Israeli raid of the Mavi Marmara ship, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on May 31, 2010, claimed the lives of nine Turkish citizens on board the vessel. Turkey had frozen its diplomatic ties with Israel after the latter refused to issue a formal apology.