In a news conference during his recent visit to Ukraine, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan touched upon Turkish-Israeli relations and said that unless Israel fulfills all the conditions of an apology — including paying compensation and lifting the Gaza blockade — normalization of relations between the two countries was impossible.
The question arose from recent news reports that the US and some European countries were making diplomatic efforts to reconcile the two countries. But Erdogan said he would accept mediation only if Israel agrees to these three conditions. Otherwise, he said, all such efforts would be futile.
It is no secret that until now all efforts of Western diplomats did not yield any results because of Israel’s rejection of the package of conditions. It is understood that there has been some movement toward an official apology for the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair by devising a statement with appropriate wording.
There wasn’t much of a problem with the issue of compensation from the outset. But the key disagreement point is the Gaza blockade condition, as Israel considers it outside of bilateral relations and directly linked to the Palestinian question. This is why it is not accepting the lifting of the Gaza blockade as a precondition of restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries.
As Erdogan was making his statement in Ukraine, this issue was being discussed at Istanbul’s Kultur University with a group of former Israeli diplomats and academics.
In a meeting organized by the university’s Global Political Trends Center — also attended by Turkish academics, retired military officials and diplomats — the future of Turkish-Israeli relations was debated in the light of the Arab Spring and the Syrian crisis.
Israeli speakers expressed views that deviated from the position of the Netanyahu government and said Israel had to exert more efforts to improve relations with Ankara. Nimron Goren, Director of Israel's Regional Foreign Policies Institute [MITVIM] said developments after the Arab Spring should be viewed as an opportunity to improve the ties between Turkey and Israel.
He said Israeli public opinion wants to restore a friendship with Turkey. His institute found in a poll it conducted that 79% of Israelis want their country to take steps to normalize relations with Turkey. Those who feel Israel should apologize ranked at 54%.
Retired senior Israeli diplomat Alon Liel said the real impediment was not the apology but the conditions in Gaza, because it is an issue linked to the Palestine question. He felt Israel was about to take some steps on this issue.
There is also a high probability that the UN will recognize a Palestine state by the end of this year, which will force Israel to review its policies.
Until now the Arab Spring did not affect Turkish-Israeli relations. Liel said the Syrian crisis was moving in a direction that will require Turkish-Israeli cooperation for the benefit of both countries.
But at the moment there is no strong motivation for either side to change its attitude. This is the real problem. Both governments feel that the other side is suffering more from the rupture in relations and that they don’t really need the other side.
Of course, it is not that simple — especially in the wild turbulence of the Middle East. As long as they stick to their positions, we should not expect a change in relations.