Jerusalem hopes its apology to Ankara for mistakes that might have led to the unnecessary loss of life on the Mavi Marmara turns the page in relations with Turkey, but if it does not, one official said, everyone will see “that Israel went the extra mile.”
The official’s comments came even as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to “rub Israel’s nose” in the apology, claiming it now makes Turkey a major player in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Although the official refrained from specifying who he had in mind when saying that “everyone” would see that Israel did its part to mend fences, the US had for months been pushing for an Israeli-Turkish rapprochement, arguing that this was supremely important to American efforts to cope with the radically changing Middle East.
In addition to US President Barack Obama, who brokered the phone call between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Erdogan, and who expressed support for the efforts at healing the Israeli-Turkish rift, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Netanyahu since Friday to welcome what Merkel called the “understandings” between Turkey and Israel.
One senior diplomatic official said that finding a way to put the Mavi Marmara incident behind Israel and Turkey was an important demonstration to the US that Jerusalem could act as a “team player.”
Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser downplayed Turkey’s “celebrations” over the apology, saying Wednesday on Israel Radio that this was not important.
“The bottom line is that there was a central interest in taking this issue off the agenda between the two countries in light of the changing realities in the Middle East and what is happening in Syria,” he said.
There is no doubt that proper Israeli-Turkish ties are “not only an interest for the two countries, but it is also an American interest,” Hauser added, saying there was no reason for Israel not to work in coordination with Washington regarding US ties in the region.
Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic security bureau, told Israel Radio that the US was very keen that its allies in the region cooperate to help Washington cope with the changing landscape, from Tehran to Damascus.
When asked about Erdogan’s boasts, Gilad said it was important to distinguish between the “foam and the wave.” He said that there had been a clear agreement between Israel and Turkey, and that the focus should be on the agreement, not on Turkish comments about it.
Ankara’s acquiescence to stop legal proceedings against the IDF soldiers was at the “heart” of the agreement, he said.
Israeli officials would not relate to reports of differences in the sum Israel was willing to pay the families of the nine Turks killed on the Mavi Marmara, saying the technical teams set up to discuss the matter had not yet met, and that it was premature to talk about details of the compensation package.
The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported Wednesday that Erdogan had told parliament a day earlier that the Israeli apology changed the overall equation in the Middle East.
“The point we have arrived at as a result of our consultations with all our brothers in Palestine and peripheral countries is increasing our responsibility with regard to solving the Palestinian question and thus is bringing about a new equation,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.”
This swagger was largely dismissed by one official in Jerusalem, who said that while Israel was happy for parties to promote peace, “four hours were spent Saturday night on the Palestinian issue with the Americans, and that is where the focus is. There are serious efforts underway to restart the talks, and the best thing would be to support those efforts.” •