Turkey-Israel deal is back on agenda

Turkey-Israel deal is back on agenda

A massive protest rally was organized by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) in Istanbul on May 28 against Israel’s blockade on Gaza. The IHH is the organization that brought together the flotilla to break the blockade in 2010, which ended in tragedy six years ago yesterday, after Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara ship, killing nine Turkish citizens on board. 

Amid failing reconciliatory talks, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been downgraded to the second secretary level, with no ambassadors present in each other’s capitals and no military relations like there used to be. 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has underlined three conditions for the normalization of relations: An official apology from Israel, compensation for the families of the Mavi Marmara victims, and a lifting of the blockade on Gaza for humanitarian aid. The apology came on March 24, 2013 from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after a push from U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Israel. Washington wants two of its regional allies to be at peace with each other once again, and the issue was raised by Obama again during his White House meeting with Erdoğan on March 31, 2016. 

The compensation issue has also been more or less settled in the renewed round of talks between Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dora Gold, although this has not yet been officially announced. 

On the issue of the blockade, reports that have neither been confirmed nor denied suggest that a middle way is about to be settled. This would allow Turkish humanitarian and civil aid (like construction material under the monitoring of Israel) to be delivered. The aid will not be delivered directly to Gaza but rather delivered through Israel’s Ashdod port, close to the Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip.

According to the statements of both sides, the talks are now at their final stages, but they have been put on hold because of cabinet changes in both countries. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in Turkey has changed its chairman and prime minister, from Ahmet Davutoğlu to Binali Yıldırım. In Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Yalon, who was reportedly against a deal with Ankara, has resigned. He has been replaced by Avigdor Lieberman, who is also a hardliner but whose stance regarding the deal is not yet clear.

Allowing the spectacular IHH protest rally on May 28 in the heart of Istanbul in Taksim could be read as a signal sent by President Erdoğan to Israel and the U.S. But actually it seems to have been more aimed at domestic public opinion. 

The protest came on the third anniversary of the start of the wave of Gezi Park anti-government protests, and allowing the IHH to rally on the same route, on the same day, sends an ideological message not only to the IHH but also to the AK Parti grassroots in general. 

At the same time, official sources who asked not to be named say Erdoğan wants the deal to be completed as soon as possible, without the agreed-in-principle framework being changed by the Israeli government. He has given instructions to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to that end, and diplomatic sources in Ankara say the deal might be confirmed within weeks - if the Israeli side is also ready.