Turkey-Israel: Rethinking

Turkey-Israel: Rethinking

If Turkey had properly presented to the world the strong elements that were in its favor in the United Nations Investigation Panel report on the Mavi Marmara incident, it could have put Israel at a quite inconvenient position. In the report, strong evidence was set out that Israeli soldiers intentionally killed and injured the Turkish activists on the ship and that Israel had not submitted a satisfactory explanation.

 However, our Foreign Ministry’s lack of experience and skill in using public diplomacy was felt once more in this matter. On top of this, when President Gül’s unfortunate statement of “This report is null for us” came, the U.N. document was considered domestically and internationally as “Turkey’s defeat.”

On the other hand, this report actually could not have been published.

If Turkey and Israel had officially concluded the deal, the U.N. report would have not been issued in accordance with the resolution reached beforehand. The four-page draft deal I saw had “Agreement on the Flotilla Incident between the Turkish and Israeli Governments” as its title; the date was “June 18-19, 2011.”

In this English text, Israel was officially apologizing for “operational mistakes that caused life losses and injuries to Turkish people.” The apology, as Turkey wanted, was expressed with the categorical word “apology” in English. Not the word “regret” that means being sorry and remorseful.

Israel accepts paying compensation. In the text, it was reported that after the compensation is paid outright then this provision will be considered fulfilled. Thereby, following this payment, Turkey guaranteed that Turkish citizens and their legal representatives would not take legal action against Israel.

According to information I obtained, during these secret negotiations the Israeli side asked the Turkish side how much compensation they demand and said “pronounce a figure.” The Turkish side, because there would be no return from a pronounced figure, refrained from answering this question.

In the main agreement text, Turkey and Israel made a commitment that after the agreement went into effect, diplomatic and other bilateral relations would immediately start.

The only matter Turkey objected to in this draft was such expressions at the beginning of the text as, “the deaths and injuries did not happen intentionally.” Turkey says just the opposite, that is, the Turkish activists were intentionally killed by Israeli soldiers. If secret negotiations with Israel in this framework had continued, the Turkish side would have tried to have this expression changed or at least transformed into a “co-habitable” state.

It was 95 percent completed

As a result, the deal that provided for the normalization of relations with Turkey and Israel was 95 percent complete as of last June.

But the deal was never “100 percent complete” because in Israel, the obstacle, the extreme of the extreme Lieberman was not overcome. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not persuade Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for an apology and compensation. And the Turkey-Israel secret negotiations that started after the U.N. Investigation Panel was formed in August 2010, collapsed in June following the days when the draft agreement was prepared.

Matters in this “duplex channel” were held tight. The Israeli member of the U.N. Investigation Committee, Joseph Ciechanover and Ambassador Özdem Sanberk, who represented Turkey on the panel, were also negotiating through the duplex channel. The head of the panel Geoffrey Palmer and his deputy Alvaro Uribe, even if they were aware of that secret negotiations were conducted between the two countries, they did not know that Ciechanover and Sanberk were the participants. The “duplex channel” held meetings in Geneva, Bucharest and Rome.

Despite all, this draft agreement could be the operational basis for a new normalization process between Turkey and Israel. Of course, if it is possible to persuade Lieberman in the light of new situations in the Middle East.

Did you say Prime Minister Erdoğan’s condition of the “lifting of the Gaza blockade” for the normalization of relations?

If a few Turkish aid ships are allowed to dock into one of the piers of Gaza with a splendid show, wouldn’t this condition be considered met?

Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on Nov. 21. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.