It’s time for Israel to lift the Gaza blockade

It’s time for Israel to lift the Gaza blockade

The title of Israeli daily Haaretz’s editorial published on Nov. 25 was “Time to talk with Turkey,” and the article aimed to encourage the coalition government to find the right words to apologize to the Turkish people for the bloody Mavi Marmara raid that killed nine unarmed civilian activists in international waters in 2010. The editorial suggested that if the Israeli government could negotiate with Hamas to reach a cease-fire, it could and should reconcile with Turkey as well.

The fact that Turkey’s Foreign Ministry undersecretary, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Josef Chiechanover, met in Geneva just before the Gaza operation could be evaluated as Israel’s intention to break the ice with its once-best friend in the region. Although the Geneva talks fell short of producing a breakthrough, it was equally important in showing that “the doors were not fully closed between the regional rivals.”

In addition to the Geneva talks, the Israeli operation into Gaza opened new channels between the two countries during cease-fire negotiations with the involvement of intelligence services on both sides. Although Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu rejected calling these contacts “dialogues,” he did not, at the same time, rule out the possibility of further meetings between officials in the event that Israel indicates its readiness to warm up relations with Turkey.

In light of this, ongoing efforts to ease the blockade Israel has been imposing on Gaza could also have serious results in facilitating a reconciliation in ties between Turkey and Israel. As is very well known, apart from an official request and compensation, Turkey has also asked Israel to remove its blockade over Gaza as a condition to the normalization of ties.

Davutoğlu confirmed in a recent interview that they were floating ideas on how to control crossings from the Rafah checkpoint, including setting up a new international mechanism which would, of course, see the involvement of Turkey alongside other regional countries and organizations like the Arab League and the United Nations.

In the wake of the growing Syrian crisis and changing Middle Eastern political landscape, both countries should better review their visions and come to the conclusion that their friendship is much better for them and the entire region than their animosity.

However, a great portion of responsibility lies on the shoulders of Israel, as it first has to settle its debt over the Mavi Marmara attack. A key step in this bid would be the removal of the Gaza blockade, which would have positive effects in the Middle East, as well as in Turkey. It is common opinion in Ankara that such an Israeli step would not be left unanswered.