Abandoning Palestinians and its pledge to fight Israel's protracted blockade of Gaza, the Turkish government on Monday announced an agreement to normalize relations with the Middle East powerhouse—reportedly just in time for a new, lucrative natural gas deal.
The two countries have been engaged in a bitter dispute since 2010 when the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, which was carrying humanitarian supplies to the people of the Gaza Strip, killing nine people at the time and and fatally injuring a tenth.
In response, Turkey imposed unprecedented military sanctions on Israel and demanded that its former ally issue an apology and compensation for the attack, as well as end the siege of Gaza. According to the Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah, Monday's "breakthrough apparently came when Turkey dropped the third and biggest of these demands and accepted that Israel would maintain its blockade."
Underscoring that fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted Monday that his government will keep "the defensive maritime blockade" of Gaza, saying: "I was not willing to compromise on it."
The two parties reportedly reached the new agreement because of a mutual desire to exploit natural gas reserves worth hundreds of billions of dollars under the eastern Mediterranean.
Restoring relations with Ankara is a linchpin in Israel's strategy to unlock its natural gas wealth. It is looking for export markets and is exploring a pipeline to Turkey as one option, both for consumers there and as a connection to Europe.
"This is a strategic matter for the state of Israel. This matter could not have been advanced without this agreement, and now we will take action to advance it," Netanyahu said. Gas, he said, had the potential to strengthen Israel's coffers "with a huge fortune."
As Abunimah notes, the Turkish government has tried to put a "positive spin" on the deal, highlighting provisions that will allow Turkey to "deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military products to Gaza and make infrastructure investments in the area," including new residential buildings and a 200-bed hospital.
"Israel’s arrogant attitude as if to say 'I kill people and pay in cash whatever is the cost' is unacceptable."
—Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH)
But as Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, wrote at Haaretz on Monday, "Turkey's acceptance of Israeli monitoring of these goods and services is an achievement for Israel, since it essentially is de facto recognition of the Gaza blockade itself."
What's more, the agreement also grants IDF soldiers who participated in the Mavi Marmara raid immunity from criminal charges in Turkish courts.
In response, the Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH), which organized the 2010 flotilla, issued a statement condemning the deal.
"The issue is not entry of humanitarian relief supplies into Gaza but making sure that Gaza has its freedom of movement and transactions so that it does not have to rely on external aid. Palestine is deprived of this freedom and doomed to rely on external aid only while international law grants it to every land and government," the group wrote. "It is simply unacceptable."
The aid organization states that it will thus continue efforts on "all fronts including legal and physical arenas for the removal of the illegal and unjustifiable blockade on Gaza," while continuing to litigate cases on behalf of the "international victims of the Mavi Marmara attack from 37 different countries."
"Israel’s arrogant attitude as if to say 'I kill people and pay in cash whatever is the cost' is unacceptable," the statement continues. "Mavi Marmara stood as a hope in the Islamic world and for the oppressed people of the world. It is our duty to keep this hope which stands for the common consciousness of humanity alive."