A Turkish official told the Today's Zaman newspaper on Monday that there is great political will in both Turkey and Israel to end the crisis between the two countries, but Israel must apologize for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound ship last year.
“Even if I spill some coffee on you, I would apologize and offer to pay the cost of your dry cleaning; this is expected,” said Ozdem Sanberk, Turkey's representative on the United Nations committee of inquiry into the raid, which killed nine Turkish citizens.
The Turkish representative said he understands that Israel “has its concerns. That is understandable, but obviously we cannot be expected to accept nine deaths.”
Sanberk formerly served as the head of Turkey’s foreign ministry and has participated in all talks between Israel and Turkey in the past year. He revealed that Israel is trying to find a formula to solve the diplomatic impasse between the two countries, but that does not entail assuming full culpability.
“Israel is trying to mitigate its responsibility. It is trying to say that it had no intention to kill people and that operational mistakes occurred,” the Turkish official said, adding that “Israel fears that the marines and their commanders would be exposed to prosecution abroad because an apology would be seen as an admission of culpability.”
Israel and Turkey began intense talks a few weeks ago to end the rift between the two countries in preparation for a UN report on the Gaza flotilla. Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon represented Israel in the negotiations, however talks have hit a standstill.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon decided to postpone publishing the committee of inquiry’s findings until July 27, buying time for additional dialogue between Israel and Turkey.
Sanberk emphasized the two countries’ “strong political will” to end the crisis, but hinted that political considerations in both Israel and Turkey have posed a challenge to negotiators on both sides.
“I wouldn't be involved in this process if I wasn’t optimistic. But there are of course political forces which are not under our control as negotiators,” Sanberk said.
He refrained from criticizing Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for refusing to relent or compromise to solve the crisis between their countries.
“I cannot speak for the domestic policy of Israel,” Sanberk said, adding “there is a coalition government there and coalitions have their inherent fragilities. We would like Israel to demonstrate its capacity to act in a rational way.”
The Turkish official also touched on his own prime minister’s apparent lack of flexibility in the matter, saying “statesmen make political decrees, and it cannot be expected that this will change. That is the nature of politics, and all politics are domestic.”
Sanberk emphasized that the UN committee of inquiry does not hold Turkey or the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) at fault for the raid that led to the deaths of nine Turkish citizens. He then cited the UN report that “highlights the responsibility of the Israeli soldiers for the deaths and injuries.”
“Therefore,” Sanberk added, “if Israel is ready for an apology and compensation, we are ready to leave that unfortunate event behind.”
The official said that Turkey refuses to accept the findings of the committee of inquiry that claim Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza is legal, particularly in light of the fact that the UN Human Rights Council Fact Finding Mission in Geneva, had said in October of last year that Israel's military violated international law during the raid. The Geneva report also said that the naval blockade was not legal.
“It is interesting to note that two bodies, both under the UN, have conflicting results in their reports,” Sanberk said.
The Turkish representative stressed Israel and Turkey’s mutual interest in reconciling. “If tensions between Turkey and Israel increase, this would not be for the benefit of stability in the region,” Sanberk said, adding “there has never been bloodshed between Turkish and Jewish people before. We were never at war. That is why we demand an apology.”
He went on to talk about the uniqueness of Israeli-Turkish ties, saying “our relationship is different than the relationship between Israelis and Arabs, and it is different than the relationship between Europeans and Israelis. Israel does not have historic claims on Turkey as it does on Europe and the United States. We have an equal standing when we talk to each other.”
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