Despite Turkish Posturing, Detente with Israel Won’t Change the Gaza Blockade
Israel and Turkey announced this afternoon a detente, ending a six-year diplomatic rift. Relations broke down in 2009 after Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish nationals during the seizure of a passenger ship, which departed from Turkey as part of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla,” a sea convoy packed with aid and activists.
Among the casualties was a dual U.S.-Turkish citizen, Furkan Dogan who was 19.
As a term of the agreement, Turkey will pass a law to make illegal any “criminal and civil claims” against Israel or it’s military forces for the death of the activists, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Rome.
Netanyahu added the blockade over the Gaza Strip, which was an area of dispute between the two countries, will remain in full. “This is our supreme security interest; I was not prepared to compromise on it,” he said.
Yet speaking to reporters in Ankara,Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim alluded to a lessening of Israeli restrictions over Gaza—which were not guaranteed by Israel in the talks.
The “Gaza embargo to be largely lifted,” he said, adding “Turkish ship[s] carrying 10,000 tons of aid will move toward [the] Israeli port of Ashdod on Friday,” reported the Turkish outlet Anadolu Agency.
While Gaza’s border will still remain under Israeli control, the agreement will include Turkish construction of a hospital, power plant and water sanitation facility in the Strip, and the financing of an industrial zone in the northern West Bank. In turn Israel will pay $20 million in reparations for the deaths of the Turkish citizens.
In Turkey the pact was criticized by parties close to the victims. The charity organization IHH, where the killed activists aboard the MV Mavi Marmara volunteered, released a 15-point criticism of the pact.
“Humanitarian aid in Gaza is only part of the issue. In Gaza, the problem is mainly freedom,” IHH said on social media.
Gaza’s governing authority Hamas has yet to comment on the deal. On Friday Hamas Khaled Mashaal traveled to Turkey to met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for private talks.While the exact terms of the deal have not been disclosed, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported an official said the Gaza government will be left out all together. “There are absolutely no references to Hamas in the agreement,” said the source.
In Rome the agreement was praised by Secretary of State John Kerry who spoke alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning hours before the negotiations concluded. The two also met Sunday night.
Kerry relayed backing from the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden in particular, who volunteered an American oil and gas expert to facilitate concurrent economic talks on a suspected adjoining energy agreement between Israel and Turkey.
“The United States welcomes this step. It is something we have talked about for several years,” Kerry said of a potential oil and gas deal.
Netanyahu added the agreement would have “ immense implications for the Israeli economy.”
“And I use that word advisedly – immense implications for the Israeli economy, and I mean positive immense implications,” he said.
Yet back in Israel the normalization of relations was received with skepticism.
Officials from the opposition party decried the $20 million in Israeli indemnities. The Zionist Union’s Issac Herzog wrote on social media “Every Hebrew mother should know that right-wing politicians will compensate her son’s attackers.”
Words of support came from Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin during a meeting with Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon.
“I understand the many Israelis that disagree or feel hurt by the agreement, but our elected leaders have the responsibility to act in the country’s best interest,” said Rivlin. “There are no shortcuts in the Middle East. Hatred spreads much faster than hope, and the only way to move forward is direct negotiations,” he added.