ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lauded last Sunday’s deal to restore ties with Turkey, six years after a deadly raid on an aid flotilla soured relations between the two countries.
Netanyahu, speaking on Monday after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, said the agreement would have major implications for the Israeli economy as it seeks export partners for its natural gas. ‘I think it’s an important step here to normalise relations,’ Netanyahu told reporters.
He said he would lay out the deal in detail later but described it as having ‘immense implications for the Israeli economy, and I use that word advisedly. I mean positive, immense implications.’ Kerry also hailed the deal as a ‘positive step’.
Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim were also scheduled to hold separate press conferences on the deal simultaneously in Rome and Ankara. A senior Turkish official also confirmed the agreement saying, in a reference to the Israeli 2010 raid on the aid flotilla, that it ‘represents a diplomatic victory for Turkey, which assumed a principled and determined stance after the Mavi Marmara attack.’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas spoke by phone overnight last Sunday, with the Turkish leader explaining the agreement’s main points, a statement from the Palestinian presidency said.
Erdogan also met with Doha-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal last Friday in anticipation of the agreement, which is actually due to be signed today. Previously close relations between Israel and Turkey were significantly downgraded after Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on the six-ship flotilla in May 2010 as it tried to run the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Nine activists aboard the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ferry were killed, with a 10th person later dying of his wounds. All of those killed were Turkish nationals. Both sides have been pushing to complete the deal in recent months, with Israel in search of a potential customer for its offshore gas exports and NATO member Turkey wanting to restore its regional clout, analysts say.
The United States has also pushed for the two countries to resolve the dispute as it seeks cooperation in the fight against extremists from the Islamic State group. Within Israel, the deal was given a mixed response, with one newspaper quoting a soldier from the Mavi Marmara raid as saying: ‘it’s nothing less than spitting in our face.’
The deal includes Israel paying some $20 million into a fund for compensation for the Turkish victims’ families. We were sent to stop a terrorist flotilla. That was the mission,’ the Maariv newspaper quoted the anonymous soldier as saying. How is it possible today to pay compensation to terrorists who tried to murder us on board the ship? What message does that send to the rest of the troops?’
The deal is to result in the restoration of ambassadors, an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity. Two of Turkey’s key conditions for normalisation – an apology and compensation – were largely met earlier, leaving its third demand, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the main obstacle. Reports in recent days described a compromise on the issue.
Under the reported terms of the deal, Israel will allow the completion of a much-needed hospital in Gaza, as well as the construction of a new power station and a desalination plant for drinking water. Turkey’s aid to Gaza would also be channelled through the Israeli port of Ashdod rather than sending it directly to the Palestinian enclave, the reports said.
Turkey has also committed to keeping Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, from carrying out activities against Israel from its country, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last Sunday. Hamas would continue to be able to operate from Turkey for diplomatic purposes, the paper added.
Netanyahu has also come under pressure within Israel not to agree to the deal if it does not include provisions for Hamas to hand over four missing Israelis, including the remains of two soldiers presumed dead and two civilians believed held alive by Hamas in Gaza.
The Israeli official said Erdogan agreed to instruct ‘all relevant Turkish agencies to help resolve the issue of Israel’s missing citizens.’ However, Israeli Premier Netanyahu stressed the existing maritime blockade on the Palestinian Gaza Strip will remain in place following the normalisation deal between Ankara and Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu told a news briefing in the Italian capital of Rome on Monday that the Israel-Turkey agreement will end the six-year rift between the two sides. ”The second thing the agreement gives is continuation of the maritime security blockade off the Gaza Strip coast,’ he added, noting: ‘This is a supreme security interest for us. I was not prepared to compromise on it.’
On Sunday, officials from both sides reached the accord to normalise diplomatic ties which were severed six years ago in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy. Israeli commandos attacked the Freedom Flotilla in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31, 2010, killing nine Turkish citizens and injuring about 50 other people. A tenth Turkish national later succumbed to the injuries sustained in the raid.
Ankara reacted with fury, suspending its military ties with Israel and expelling the Israeli envoy from Ankara in September 2010 over Tel Aviv’s refusal to apologise for the killings. However, Turkey gradually engaged in not-so-public talks with the Israeli regime to mend ties. Since last December, the two sides have held several rounds of talks aimed at restoring the tense bilateral ties.
The United States was reportedly pushing the two sides to resolve the dispute. Netanyahu travelled to the Italian capital, Rome, where negotiations were said to have been held, to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry who was also in the city.
Among Turkey’s key conditions for the reconciliation accord with Israel were an apology and compensation, which are said to have been largely met. However, the main hurdle to the agreement is reported to be the lifting of Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The deal is set to go before Israel’s so-called security cabinet for approval on today.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim confirmed the two sides will exchange ambassadors after the agreement was formally signed yesterday. According to Yildirim, Israel will pay $US 20 million in compensation to the families of the victims of the raid on the Turkish aid ship.
Netanyahu has hailed the rapprochement with Turkey, describing it as an important step. He said the normalisation of ties will have a positive and ‘immense’ impact on Israel’s economy. Gaza has been blockaded since 2007, a situation that has caused a decline in the standard of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty. The apartheid regime of Israel denies the two million people in Gaza their basic rights, including freedom of movement, proper jobs, and adequate healthcare and education.