By Ozdem Sanberk
My readers will no doubt be aware of the sharp deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations after the attack by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on a humanitarian convoy carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza and the killing of nine Turkish citizens.
Immediately after this incident, Turkey made its position very clear that until Israel offered an apology and paid compensation to the families of the dead men, relations with it would not return to normal. This was emphasized at every occasion, as well as the fact that Turkey expected the lifting of the embargo on Gaza.
Turkey subsequently continued to maintain this position, declining to make concessions. The outcome now arrived at reflects a definite success for Turkish diplomacy and the effective way in which it kept up its resolution.
Turkey’s resolution was rewarded on 22 March this year when the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, telephoned Turkey’s Prime Minister, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and stated his sorrow at the tragic outcome of the Mavi Marmara incident, offering his apologies to the Turkish people. Mr Netanyahu also indicated that he would give the instructions to his government to make the steps necessary for the payment of compensation.
Mr Netanyahu also said that Israel would basically lift restrictions on the entry of goods to be used by the civilian population into Palestinian territories including Gaza and that this would apply as long as tranquil conditions prevailed. Prime Minister also added in this context that he was eager to work with Turkey to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.
The Turkish Premier, Mr Erdoğan, replied to Mr Netanyahu that he accepted the apology in this spirit on behalf of the Turkish people. Israel had thus apologized and indicated that it would accept Turkey’s request for compensation. These developments may not end the feeling of grief among Turks but they are undoubtedly a step taken in the right direction.
The statements by Israel’s prime minister about the territories under occupation are extremely important. As is generally known, Turkey supports all the international and regional efforts to find a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution to the dispute between Israel and Palestine based on the vision of a two-state settlement. It will continue to support efforts to this end. The important points are the restoration to the Palestinians of rights seized from them and enabling Palestinians living in the occupied territories to enjoy a humanitarian existence in which they possess rights and freedom of every kind. So the agreement Turkey has reached with Israel represents an important gain to this end, with the inclusion of the Palestinian people and their cause.
Whether or not Israel keeps its promises will obviously have to be monitored in the near future. But Israel has admitted its errors and apologized in a manner leaving no room for different interpretations and there can be no doubt that this constitutes a turning point in the chain of events that followed the bitter events of 31 May 2010.
Both Turkey and Israel should now make it a priority to focus on the future and to create a set of linkages that will ensure that similar tragic events do not recur.
The current testing events in the Middle East seem to grow a little more dangerous every day and they make close cooperation between all the players in the region a necessity. Today, both Turkey and Israel feel the conflict in Syria at close hand. They have a daunting joint agenda of problems.
So both countries have a duty to look to the future and, after the Israeli apology to Turkey, to step up moves to recreate a basis for mutual confidence while keeping a close eye on the instabilities and uncertainties of the Middle East.
Ozdem Sanberk Director of USAK
About the author: JTW
JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).