Pro-Palestinian activists wave Turkish and Palestinian flags during welcoming ceremony.
Pro-Palestinian activists wave Turkish and Palestinian flags during the welcoming ceremony for cruise liner Mavi Marmara at the Sarayburnu port of Istanbul December 26, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony in Ankara December 18, 2013. Photo by Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum last week. Has he changed hias political direction? Photo by Reuters

Israel has offered Turkey $20 million in compensation for the families of the nine Turkish nationals killed and to those wounded during the 2010 Israel Defense Forces raid on the Mavi Marmara, Western diplomats told Haaretz.

The diplomats, who were briefed on the negotiations but asked to speak anonymously, said that progress was being made but there was still no agreement.

The reconciliation talks between Turkey and Israel, which had petered out for many months, were revived in early December when the Turks invited the Israeli negotiating team – national security adviser Yossi Cohen; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Joseph Ciechanover; and Foreign Ministry director general Nissim Ben Sheetrit – to return to Istanbul.

During that round of talks, the Turks softened their position and lowered their compensation demands. Western diplomats told Haaretz that the Turks had demanded $30 million, which was still double the $15 million Israel was prepared to pay.

In the weeks after the negotiators returned home, Netanyahu held several consultations with them, after which he decided to up Israel’s offer to $20 million. Western diplomats said Netanyahu even gave the team permission to go up to $3 million higher if necessary to secure an agreement. It’s not clear whether Turkey will be willing to show flexibility again in its stance and lower its compensation demands to match that being offered by Israel.

The money will not be paid directly to the wounded or the families of the dead. It will be deposited in a humanitarian fund and distributed to the victims in accordance with defined criteria.

Officials in Jerusalem involved with the Turkish talks refused to confirm the sums mentioned by the Western diplomats, but did not deny them, either. They would only say that contacts between the sides were continuing, and that the outlook was positive.

Jerusalem, however, does not expect any agreement to be reached before the Turkish local elections on March 30, since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to fear that an agreement with Israel and a compromise on the compensation will hurt him politically.

The Israeli officials noted that, aside from the compensation – which is important to the Turks – a reconciliation agreement between the countries is also dependent on issues important to Israel that have yet to be concluded.

A major issue for Israel is the cancellation of lawsuits against the IDF soldiers and officers who were involved in intercepting the flotilla. Israel is demanding that, as part of the agreement, Turkey passes a law that will void the pending legal actions and block such actions in the future.

Jerusalem also wants the normalization of relations with Turkey to go beyond the symbolic return of ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara. Israel wants to resume its diplomatic dialogue with Turkey, ministerial meetings, mutual visits and other steps. Israel also expects Turkey to commit not to act against Israel in international forums and to stop haranguing Israel in the media.

For a long time, Turkey had demanded that Israel lift the blockade on Gaza as a condition for normalizing relations, but on November 8 Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that his country was satisfied with the altered Israeli policies toward allowing humanitarian goods into Gaza.

“In terms of Turkish aid, and also the others, Israel has opened its doors, relatively, and contributed to the arrival of the aid in Gaza following the negative stand by Egypt … Our final goal is to finalize the compensation talks and, in parallel, spend efforts to improve the humanitarian conditions in Palestine to be followed by the steps to lift the embargo. As long as developments take place in this direction, Turkish-Israeli relations will improve,” Davutoğlu said.

The deterioration in relations with Turkey, which began in early 2009 following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, reached rock-bottom in May 2010, after the Marmara raid. The crisis led to a downgrading of official relations and the eventual expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Ankara in September 2011.

In March last year, during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, the president mediated a phone call between Erdogan and Netanyahu, during which Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for the Marmara incident and agreed with Erdogan to begin a process of normalizing relations.