Turkey Acknowledges Reconciliation Talks With Israel

June 24, 2015  

Turkey on Wednesday said it was holding talks with Israel over a deal to reconcile the two former allies following a break in relations spurred on by Turkey’s Islamist leadership.  

“It’s quite normal for the two countries to talk for the normalization of the ties. How can reconciliation be achieved without holding any meetings?” Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.

Cavusoglu’s comments came a day after reports that Israeli and Turkish officials had held secret talks in Rome on Monday in a bid to restore relations between the two countries.

Cavusoglu confirmed such a contact had been made and said: “These meetings are not new. Expert-level talks have been held between the two countries for a while.”

Turkey’s decision to radically downgrade relations with Israel came as early as 2009, when then-Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan famously stormed offstage during a panel with then-Israeli President Shimon Peres, over Israel’s Cast Lead counterterrorism operation to stop Gaza rocket attacks.

It coincided with a foreign policy shift in Turkey as Erdogan, who heads the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), attempted to position his government as a leading force in the Muslim world. 

Ties worsened in 2010, when a flotilla manned by armed Turkish Islamists attempted to breach the IDF’s blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Israeli commandos were violently attacked as they intercepted the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, prompting them to open fire.

Nine Turks died in the raid and one more died in hospital in 2014 after four years in a coma; several IDF soldiers were also injured in the clashes.  

In response, Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador, demanded a formal apology and compensation and an end to the blockade on the Gaza Strip, which was ruled as legal by the 2011 UN Palmer Report.

Talks on compensation began in 2013 after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey in a breakthrough brokered by US President Barack Obama.

The Israeli government reportedly presented a deal to pay compensation to the families of the slain Islamists, but an agreement has not yet been forthcoming.  

“The ball is in the court of the other side on our two demands (the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the payment of compensation to the families),” Cavusoglu said.

“We are waiting for an answer from them. An agreement could perhaps have been reached much earlier but the process has been delayed because of the domestic balances of Israel,” he said.

The talks come two weeks after the ruling AKP party lost its majority in parliament – a development which analysts say will likely force the Islamist faction to moderate some of its extremist rhetoric if it is to form a coalition government with secular parties.

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