Turkish FM: Normalization of Relations With Israel ‘Close’

A view of the main bazaar in the city of Antalya. Photo by Kobi Gideon / flash90
A view of the main bazaar in the Turkish city of Antalya, formerly a popular destination for Israeli tourists. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Although negotiations are still going on for the full restoration of diplomatic relations, those talks are apparently bearing fruit. A report in Turkish media Monday quoted Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying that the “undersecretary-level efforts between Turkey and Israel were close to being completed,” the Hurriyet Daily News reported.

As a result, “Turkey and Israel may make a joint statement ‘in the coming days,’” the report quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying.

Israel and Turkey reduced relations to a bare minimum in 2010, after Turkish activists affiliated with Hamas tried to break the IDF naval blockade and reach Gaza. Soldiers who boarded the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the Gaza flotilla that was illegally trying to break the blockade, were attacked with weapons by those on board. To defend themselves, soldiers opened fire on their attackers, killing nine of them.

The demand by Turkey to “open up” Gaza has been a sticking point in the impending deal, but repots in recent weeks have highlighted Israel’s willingness to look at “creative” solutions to the dilemma, Israel Radio reported. That could include guarantees by Turkey that a Gaza port, if it is reopened, will be supervised by Turkish forces to ensure that no terror-related materials are brought into Gaza.

Over the weekend, IDF General Yoav Mordechai told a Saudi news site that talks were continuing, and that Israel had its own conditions – among them its opposition to a Gaza seaport, a partial opening of Gaza (instead of the free access Turkey is demanding), and the ejection from Turkey of Hamas offices. Israel, he said, had some leverage in the negotiations, as Turkey was very interested in buying Israeli natural gas.

One thing Israel was not prepared to agree to, however, was a seaport in Gaza. Mordechai, the IDF official in charge of affairs in Yehudah and Shomron, said that the establishment of such a port would only come after direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, which as far as Israel is concerned is in charge of Gaza. He was responding to reports last week that Hamas was expecting that the current negotiations between Israel and Turkey on the normalization of relations will lead to the establishment of a port in Gaza. In remarks Friday to the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, a top Hamas operative said that Israel was prepared to allow Turkey to manage the port, thus ensuring its security needs “while opening up Gaza to the rest of the world.”