Turkish FM confirms talks with Israel
REUTERS photoTurkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has confirmed ongoing talks with Israel aimed at reaching some form of rapprochement, while suggesting that undue emphasis should not be placed on the gatherings.
“Talks between two countries are very normal for the sake of the normalization of relations. How can reconciliation be achieved without holding any meetings?” Çavuşoğlu asked on June 24 when a group of board members of the Photojournalists’ Association of Turkey (TFMD) raised the issue during a courtesy visit to the minister’s office.
“Anyhow, these meetings are not new. Expert-level talks have been held between the two countries for a while,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold, conducted a secret meeting in Rome on June 22, news reports said this week.
Çavuşoğlu suggested that “the ball is in Israel’s court” in regard to the normalization of bilateral ties since Ankara is still waiting for the fulfillment of its conditions for normalization: the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the payment of compensation to the families of the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid in May 2010.
Turkey’s relations have been tense with Israel since nine Turks and one Turkish-American were killed, and several other pro-Palestinian activists were wounded when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, which was trying to break the blockade on Gaza. The relationship between the two countries has worsened since then, with both sides withdrawing their ambassadors and reducing their diplomatic representation in each other’s capitals.
“Agreement was ensured on one issue,” Çavuşoğlu said, referring to the fulfillment of one of Turkey’s three preconditions for the normalization of relations, a formal apology from Tel Aviv.
Numerous efforts to normalize ties between Turkey and Israel have failed, including one initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2013. At the time, Israel bowed to the longstanding demand by Ankara, once a close strategic partner, to apologize formally for the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara. However, an agreement to normalize relations has not been achieved. In recent years, Turkish and Israeli officials have often engaged in wars of words, criticizing each other’s policies.
“On two issues that we demand, the ball is in the court of the other side. We are waiting for an answer from them. However, the process has been delayed because of the domestic balances of Israel, although an agreement could perhaps have been ensured earlier on a lot of matters,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Speaking with Reuters on condition of anonymity earlier this week, an Israeli official said it was too early to judge whether the meeting signaled an acceleration of reconciliation efforts.
“Certainly there is a sense that the situation in Turkey has shifted after the election,” the official said, referring to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) recent setback in parliament that has shaken President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s standing and undermined his plans for a powerful presidency.
“But time will tell whether the new government there takes a more accommodating line on Israel than Erdoğan,” the same official said.