Moshe Ya’alon - Tomer Appelbaum - june 26 2011
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Turkey has asked Israel to agree to a toned-down version of the UN Secretary-General's report on last year's flotilla to Gaza, according to a senior government official in Jerusalem.

According to the official, the Turks are "very worried" about the harsh criticism of Turkey they expect the report to contain, and want Israel to agree to a softened version as part of a package deal to end the crisis between the two countries over the flotilla, which took place in May 2010.

The director general of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Feridun Sinirlioglu, conveyed Turkey's request in a secret meeting early last week in Geneva with Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

A draft of the report, due to be released within two weeks, was given to Israel and Turkey about six weeks ago. The committee determined that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is in keeping with international law, and therefore its actions to stop the flotilla were also legal.

According to a senior government official in Jerusalem, the report criticizes the Turkish government and highlights the relationship between it and IHH, the group that organized the flotilla.

The report also states that, while Israel Defense Forces soldiers acted in self-defense, they used disproportionate force that led to the death of nine Turkish citizens. The report recommends that Israel pay compensation to the families of the dead and injured Turkish citizens, which Israel has already said it is willing to do.

The official said the Turks would like to soften the parts of the report that could cause a political storm in Turkey.

During the meeting with Ya'alon, the Turks suggested that the toning down of the report would lead to an end to the crisis and the normalalization of relations between the countries, which would include the return of the Turkish ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Officials in Jerusalem said Israel and Turkey were finding it difficult to reach an agreement because of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's directives to Turkish negotiators, who were told not to yield on the matter of an Israeli apology for the killing of Turkish citizens.

The Turkish representative on the UN panel, Ozdem Sanberk, presented a new version of an apology in an interview to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet late last week, noting that Turkey expected Israel to admit to an operational failure. Sanberk told Hurriyet that if the crisis was not solved, Turkey could lose its influence in the region.

"Panel chairman Geoffrey Palmer is willing to change the report in keeping with understandings reached by Israel and Turkey," the Israeli government source said. The official also said that if no progress was made before the the date of the report's release, it would be be more difficult to make progress thereafter.