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The Mavi Marmara was the lead ship in a six-vessel convoy heading for Gaza. (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey-Israel Deal Leaves Gaza Siege Intact

Ali Abunimah

 by Electronic Intifada

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip expressed anger and dismay on Monday about the deal normalizing relations between Israel and Turkey that leaves them under a suffocating siege.

An Israeli human rights group that monitors the decade-old Israeli blockade of Gaza has also confirmed that the deal does not end Israel’s tight control over the territory that has greatly exacerbated the devastation to Gaza’s economy and society from three major Israeli military assaults since 2008.

Turkey put its once close military and political relations with Israel in the deep freeze six years ago, after Israel attacked the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara as it sailed in international waters as part of a flotilla to Gaza in May 2010, killing nine people and fatally injuring a tenth.

Turkey imposed unprecedented military sanctions on Israel in 2011 over the incident.

Efforts at reconciliation had been stalemated by the conditions demanded by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: an Israeli apology and compensation over the Mavi Marmara attack and an end to the siege of Gaza.

The breakthrough apparently came when Turkey dropped the third and biggest of these demands and accepted that Israel would maintain its blockade.

In a face-saving measure, Israel will allow Turkey to increase its “humanitarian” role and infrastructure projects in the besieged territory.

Positive spin

The Turkish government has tried to spin the deal positively. A senior official told The Electronic Intifada that under the deal Turkey “will deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military products to Gaza and make infrastructure investments in the area.”

This would include new residential buildings and a 200-bed hospital.

The official added that “concrete steps will be taken to address the energy and water crisis in Gaza. The amount of electricity and drinking water to Gaza residents will increase and new power plants will be constructed.”

At a press conference in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim asserted that the siege on Gaza had been “largely lifted” as a result of the agreement.

Yildirim confirmed that Israel would pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the dead and to injured survivors of the Mavi Marmara raid. He said a first shipment of 10,000 tons of Turkish aid would be delivered to Gaza later this week through the Israeli port of Ashdod.

At a simultaneous news conference in Rome, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the agreement for its “strategic importance” to Israel and affirmed that what he called the “defensive maritime blockade” of the occupied Gaza Strip would remain.

Netanyahu also said that the deal gives Israeli soldiers protection from prosecution.

Victims of the Mavi Marmara attack have pursued justice in Turkish and US courts as well as in the International Criminal Court. The deal leaves the status of these lawsuits unclear.

According to the Turkish official, the agreement will also “make it possible for Turkey to launch major projects in the West Bank, including the Jenin industrial zone.”

But as I documented in my 2014 book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Palestinian analysts and rights groups say the Jenin industrial zone and others like it, far from helping them, may only make them more vulnerable to environmental, labor and political damage and exploitation.

“Scandal and insult”

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that monitors Israel’s blockade of Gaza, said the deal did nothing to challenge Israel’s “shameful” control over the lives of 1.9 million Palestinians in Gaza.

“What Netanyahu has given Erdogan is not a change in policy, but rather a circumscribed gesture, like allowing him to put down plastic buildings in a game of Monopoly,” Gisha’s director Tania Hary wrote in a scathing op-ed in the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz.

Palestinian commentators from Gaza agreed.

“The Turkish-Israeli deal is a scandal and an insult to Palestine/Gaza and to the blood of Turkish activists,” Refaat Alareer, an educator and writer tweeted.

Alareer called the agreement a “deal of shame.”

“Lifting Gaza siege means freedom of movement, not more food and aid,” Gaza writer Omar Ghraieb tweeted. “Is that too hard to comprehend?”

“It’s not acceptable to speak lightly of [the] Gaza siege saying it’s largely lifted when it’s still affecting [the] lives of two million people,” Ghraieb added in rebuke to the Turkish prime minister.

Gaza-based translator Jason Shawa tweeted, “We want lift of the siege, not your charity Erdogan, Keep it!”

“Turkey’s interests first, ties with Gaza later,” was the succinct reaction of Gaza journalist Nidal al-Mughrabi.

Turkey has been under pressure for years, especially from the administration of US President Barack Obama, to mend its ties with Israel.

As a consequence of the bloody civil war in Syria, in which Ankara has supported forces seeking the overthrow of the government of President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey has faced a deteriorating regional situation.

Bomb attacks that have killed dozens of people in Turkish cities in recent months have contributed to a catastrophic 40 percent decline in tourism, a key sector of the country’s economy.

Netanyahu has also hinted that the rapprochement could pave the way for lucrative deals over Mediterranean gas reserves involving Turkey.

Turkey’s Yildirim was more cautious, saying that future cooperation would “be tied to the efforts of the two countries.”

Shares in Turkish energy firms that work in Israel rose sharply on news of the agreement, as did Israeli energy stocks in Tel Aviv.

Administering siege

The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah welcomed the Israel-Turkey rapprochement, but there was no immediate reaction from Hamas.

In recent days, Hamas, the Palestinian political and resistance movement that rules the interior of the Gaza Strip, has tried to limit the potential negative fallout from the Turkey-Israel negotiations.

Over the weekend, the movement’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, met with President Erdogan in Ankara.

A statement from Hamas said that the group’s delegation “confirmed to the Turkish leadership the demands of our people, especially the lifting of the siege, confident that Turkey will succeed in this matter.”

The senior Turkish official informed The Electronic Intifada that “there are absolutely no references to Hamas in the agreement” with Israel, an apparent response to Israeli demands that Erdogan shut down the movement’s activities in Turkey.

But the reality is that while Turkey is going to deliver more aid to Gaza – assuming Israel keeps its side of the bargain – it will only do so under the siege conditions imposed by Israel.

It will be difficult for many Palestinians to avoid the conclusion that Turkey has joined other members of the so-called international community, especially the United Nations, in helping Israel administer the siege rather than challenging its continuation.

The UN has been complicit in administering the siege under the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which allows building supplies to trickle in under tight Israeli control.

The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is illegal and violates the very “right to life” of the Palestinian people, according to a confidential legal opinion prepared for a major aid agency that works closely with the UN, as was revealed by The Electronic Intifada in January.

© 2021

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