by Cihan Çelik
Israel is ready to solve any outstanding disputes with its former ally Turkey, but it will not apologize to Ankara for a deadly May 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, the country’s foreign minister has said.
“As Israel, we are ready to discuss [our problems with Turkey] in high-level or low-level open meetings,” Avigdor Lieberman said during a July 22 meeting at his office in Jerusalem with a group of journalists from Turkey. “We’re really ready to discuss not only this issue [Mavi Marmara] but also the Iranian problem, the Gaza Strip [issue] or the support for [Gaza’s ruler] Hamas. But [we’re not ready] to discuss in what way we will protect our citizens,” the minister said.
The meeting was Lieberman’s first with a Turkish delegation since the 2010 attack, the minister’s spokesperson said. Lieberman said his country had no reason to apologize for the raid – something the Turkish government sees as a must if it is to restore ties with Israel – for the attack which killed eight Turks and one U.S. citizen of Turkish origin who were bringing aid to Palestine.
Mavi Marmara, a clear provocation: Lieberman
“[The Mavi Marmara mission] was a clear provocation and it was our right to protect the lives of our soldiers. Frankly speaking, Israel has no reason to apologize,” he said.
“Even if Israel apologizes for the attack, that will change nothing,” Lieberman said. “During his speeches in Parliament, Mr. [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdođan has repeatedly said that an apology will not improve the relations and that [Turkey] has additional conditions. Turkey has a long [list of] other conditions, including the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, [returning] to the border lines before 1967, compensation, et cetera. But this is not the best way to settle disagreements.”
Israel has no conditions for facilitating a thaw in Turkish-Israeli ties, the hawkish Soviet-born Israeli politician said.
Confirming that “some contacts” between Turkey and Israel have been held in the past to solve the dispute, Lieberman said he had personally tried to arrange a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutođlu without success.
“I think the picture is very bad. [But] we don’t have any disputes with Turkey – [either] territorial or historical. The opposite is true. The Jewish people have lived for hundreds of years in [Turkey] in safety, even during World War II,” he said.
Row was Erdođan’s strategic decision
Describing the Mavi Marmara attack as “an accident,” Lieberman said the dispute with Turkey had not started with the current Israeli government but with the “dovish” ex-prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
The row, which brought Turkey’s ties with Israel to their historic low level, stemmed from “a strategic decision” by Erdođan and Davutođlu, Lieberman said. “[Erdođan] thinks the best way to be the leader of the Islamic world is to confront Israel. It is the same regarding the issue of the Gaza blockade,” he said.
Turkey vociferously criticized Israel under Olmert after Tel Aviv launched an operation against Gaza in late 2007.
In the past two years, Erdođan’s speeches on Israel have gone beyond criticism to the point of insult, he said. “[Still] we are really trying to keep silent despite every verbal attack against Israel from Mr. Erdođan and Mr. Davutođlu, and we are still trying not to create unnecessary tensions.”
Asked how the deadlock would end, he pointed to the healing power of time. “Sometimes, it will take more years, sometimes less. Even if we have disputes, we can resolve disputes in different ways but not [in a way] like cutting diplomatic relations, or calling ambassadors back to the capitals, or provoking each other.”
For Turkey and Israel, there are more reasons for returning to normal relations, Lieberman said. “The demand of an apology is only an excuse.”
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