Israel should apologize to the Turkish people
But Turkey's demand is also surprising. If it wanted to impose sanctions on Israel because of the blockade, it didn't need the flotilla or the investigative committee.
In three days, if there are no more delays, the UN panel investigating the events surrounding last year's Gaza flotilla will release its report. It seems that everyone is sick of this affair and no one really wants to read the document. One could even say the two parties would be happy if there were no report at all. This is because the findings and the truth are not important here. Rather, it's which side's "truth" holds water better. The victims are not important, but rather whether they were killed "legitimately." It's not a question of whether it was wise to raid the boat, but whether political folly conforms to international law.
This is the real saga surrounding the events that turned the Mavi Marmara into a shoal on which Israeli-Turkish relations ran aground. If Israel's representative on the UN committee, Yosef Ciechanover, and the Turkish representative, Ozdem Sanberk, have done very good work, each side will have the same amount of "justice" to bask in, a similar amount of foolishness and an equal portion of arrogance.
With or without the report, Turkey is presenting three conditions which, if met, will breathe new life into relations between Istanbul and Jerusalem: an apology to the Turkish people, compensation to the families of the dead and a lifting of the restrictions on Gaza. Israel - with or without the report - hasn't wanted to apologize or lift the restrictions. But it's ready to pay compensation without taking responsibility - a kind of goodwill gesture. This clause, which has also not been finalized, is the only one where there is a consensus.
With regard to lifting the restrictions on Gaza, Israel claims that many restrictions have been lifted and that, in any case, the opening of the Rafah crossing to Egypt offsets the blockade's damage to Gaza's humanitarian needs. Israel is right, but only partially. The people of Gaza cannot travel to the West Bank, the maritime blockade is complete, and the suffering involved in the continuation of the occupation has not been resolved.
But Turkey's demand is also surprising. If it wanted to impose sanctions on Israel because of the blockade, it didn't need the flotilla or the investigative committee. It could have frozen ties back in 2007, when the blockade was put in place. Why did Turkey wait three years when it already knew in 2008 that Israel hadn't taken its opinion into account?
If Turkey is now seeking to use the flotilla to attain a diplomatic achievement, it's making the Mavi Marmara part of its diplomatic efforts, while back in May 2010 it made clear that it had no connection to the flotilla whatsoever. If Turkey views the blockade as an independent pretext for sanctions on Israel, it should not link it to an agreement on an apology and compensation.
As for the apology: Israel has not been asked to apologize to the Turkish government or its prime minister, but to the Turkish people, who don't understand how an army of a friendly country, almost a sister country - an army that sold Turkey so many weapons and trained on its mountains with its generals - killed nine of its citizens. The report, which will certainly be extremely delicately worded, and the defense that each government will find for its positions, will weave a tight fabric of justifications that each country can wrap itself in and declare victory.
But this delicate wording will be overshadowed by a huge sacrifice: relations between the Turkish people and the Israeli people, who have been sacrificed by the politicians, who use them like weapons to increase their prestige. For that, both sides must apologize. The least the Israeli government can do is apologize to the Turkish people, and the least Turkey can do is accept the apology, agree on compensation and thoroughly discuss the political dispute. Israel must lift the Gaza blockade without reference to the flotilla or Turkey's demands. Absurdly, the blockade has become a strategic foundation that is not only useless, but destructive. Turkey, as an ally once again, will certainly find attentive ears in Israel if it gets off the shipwrecked boat, which has become a shoal of sorts itself.