Israel and Turkey Officially Announce Rapprochement Deal, Ending Diplomatic Crisis

Netanyahu says agreement creates stability in face of Mideast turmoil; Gaza blockade to remain, but Turkish aid to Gaza to be permitted through Israel.

Netanyahu and Erdogan - Reuters
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Reuters

ROME –Turkey and Israel have reconciled after a six-year rift, the two nations' prime ministers announced on Monday at separate press conferences in Rome and Ankara. The agreement renormalizes diplomatic relations between the two countries and ends the crisis that erupted following the death of nine Turkish civilians during a raid by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza Strip in May 2010.

The rapprochement agreement was initialed by the negotiating teams on Sunday night. For the first time since the negotiations began, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent his personal adviser and closest confidante, Ibrahim Kalin, to the final round of talks in Rome, to personally oversee the final stage.

The agreement will formally be signed on Tuesday, in Jerusalem by Dori Gold, the director general of the Foreign Ministry, and in Ankara, by the director general of the foreign ministry there. The signed agreement will be brought before the diplomatic-security cabinet on Wednesday for voting.

At this stage none of the ministers sitting on the panel have voiced objections, but sources in Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party said they expect the defense minister to vote against the deal. Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi say they haven't made up their minds yet.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during their meeting at Villa Taverna, U.S. Embassy, in Rome, Italy. June 27, 2016. ()
Giuseppe Lami, AP (ANSA pool)

Once the agreement has been approved by the inner cabinet, it will be brought before the public, stated Yakob Nagel, the acting national security adviser and a member of the negotiating team. At the same time, the agreement will be brought before the Knesset, and the lawmakers will have 14 days to study it, as is the practice regarding international treaties. After 14 days, it will come into official force.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his press conference in Rome that the reconciliation deal with Turkey is of "strategic importance to Israel," and added that on the backdrop of the upheavals in the Middle East, he wanted to "create islands of stability" around Israel. Israel and Turkey are two regional superpowers, Netanyahu said, adding that "the rift between us didn't benefit our shared interests and had prevented us from cooperating on important things."

Netanyahu also presented the main points of the agreement at the press conference:

* The Turkish parliament will be passing a law canceling all claims filed in Turkey against Israeli soldiers involved in the flotilla incident, and will block future claims.

Turkey-Israel - AP
AP

* The agreement includes an undertaking to prevent terrorist or military activity against Israel from Turkey, and bans fundraising for such purposes. "That is an important commitment," Netanyahu remarked.

During the negotiations Israel has demanded that Turkey close down Hamas' military command post in Turkey. Turkey will however continue to allow Hamas offices to operate on its soil, but only for political activity.

* In the agreement, Turkey waived its demand that the naval blockade of Gaza be lifted in its entirety. The Turks are thereby acknowledging that any aid they send to Gaza will have to pass through Ashdod Port for Israeli security inspection, only after which it will be taken by land to Gaza. The agreement sustains the naval blockade of Gaza, which is preventing Hamas from growing stronger, Netanyahu told the press, adding that he would not have compromised about that.

* Israel for its part will enable Turkey to advance humanitarian projects in Gaza, including building a hospital, a power station and a desalination station, all subject to Israeli security considerations, Netanyahu said. "When electricity is short, sanitation problems arise that can cause plagues that don't stop at the border. That is why this is a clear Israeli interest." The Gaza Strip is also running perilously short of water, which could lead to contamination of groundwater, and that would also be an Israeli interest, Netanyahu said.

At his press conference in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the first Turkish ship with 20,000 tons of humanitarian aid will be leaving for Ashdod on Friday.  Yildirim also said that the agreement reflects Turkey's role as protector of oppressed peoples in the Middle East.

* Under the agreement, Israel will transfer $20 million in compensation to a humanitarian fund, to be set up in Turkey. The money will be transferred to the families of the people killed and injured in the 2010 flotilla.

A senior Israeli official commented on Sunday that the money would only be transferred after the Turkish parliament passes the law blocking claims against Israeli soldiers. Joseph Ciechanover, special envoy, who accompanied the negotiations in the last six years, said at the press conference that the Turks had demanded a much higher sum.

While he would have been happy to pay nothing and to achieve an agreement, that wasn't an option, Ciechanover explained: "We started at astronomical figures and it ended in $20 million. The fruits of the agreement will generate achievements for Israel worth far more than $20 million."

* Immediately after signature on the agreement, the two nations will begin the process of normalizing their relations, appointing ambassadors to Ankara and Tel Aviv, and removing the sanctions they slapped on one another, in respect to diplomatic cooperation in international bodies, and cooperating on the military and security fronts. 

Although this issue isn't part of the agreement, Netanyahu said at the press conference that the reconciliation with Turkey will help advance the sale of Israeli gas by opening a gateway to the European markets, which will give a big boost to the Israeli economy.

Netanyahu said that the Leviathan deep-sea field had enough gas to supply Egypt and Turkey and, though Turkey, even Europe as well.

At the press conference, Netanyahu remarked on criticism of him and the agreement in the last day by opposition chairman Isaac Herzog and others, including former Likud minister Gideon Saar. Some of the people now attacking him, he said, had been calling for reconciliation with Turkey. "They said to me, 'You're holding it up over $20 million? This is a key Muslim state,'" Netanyahu said. "I don't run the country by tweets or headlines, but by the interests of the nation. I heard people talking about national pride. I see that world leaders respect those who try to advance his national interests."

Regarding the criticism, Ciechanover said at the press conference that Netanyahu had expected as much in advance, but forged ahead because of the agreement's strategic importance. It took six years to reach an agreement during which every syllable was chewed over again and again, he said.

Nagel remarked that once the agreement is made public in the, much of the criticism will vanish.

On Sunday Turkey gave Israel an official letter with Erdogan's undertaking to use Turkish intelligence resources to get back two Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians who went missing in Gaza and are held by Hamas.

Despite this Turkish reassurance, the families of the missing people were extremely upset over the agreement.

He understands their suffering, Netanyahu told the press, adding, "I promise them we will not stop until we bring the boys home. The agreement creates another tool to do so. Turkey does not control the Hamas and isn't holding the bodies. But the undertaking we received from Erdogan is a good thing. Without his letter, nothing would have happened. Now there is a chance of something."

In recent days Israel briefed the United States, Russia, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan about the developments in the Turkish talks, Netanyahu and Nagel said. It stressed that the agreement would not be at the expense of any of Israel's allies. What had held up the agreement for six years, Netanyahu said, were conditions that Israel couldn't accept, especially regarding the Turkish demand to lift the Gaza blockade.

It took time for Turkey to lift some of its conditions, Netanyahu said, adding, "We aren't embarking on a honeymoon or looking at things with rose-colored glasses, but our interests are advanced positively in the agreement. It's an important one… I am doing what is important for Israel, for the generations to come as well."