In the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology Friday to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard the 2010 Gaza flotilla, the two countries have set the wheels in motion to pay compensation over the deaths, with Israel set to pay out as much as tens of millions of dollars, according to sources in Turkey.
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High-level diplomatic contact between the two countries began on Monday when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni over the establishment of a joint committee that will formulate the terms of Israel's agreement to pay compensation.
The vice prime minister of Turkey, Bulent Arinc, told journalists on Monday that both sides agreed to establish a joint high-level committee over the coming days to discuss the details of the compensation transfer.
Beyond the technical and legal questions over the compensation payments, the waiver of the legal claims and the extent of the blockade on Gaza, the Palestinian issue – rather than the Syrian one – will continue to be the focus of future relations between the two countries. The Turkish foreign minister made int clear during Tuesday’s Arab League summit in Doha that Turkey will continue to stand with the Palestinian people and will act in order to end Israeli occupation. In Turkey, they estimate that the three-year long rift caused by the “Palestinian question” now gives Turkey leverage, and that the nature of the relationship between it and Israel will be largely dependent upon Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians.
As for Syria, Israel and Turkey see its future differently. While Israel is concerned by the possibility that Assad’s rule may fall and be replaced by an extremist Islamic regime, or that the state may be dismantled by armed forces that will control different sections, Turkey estimates that the Syrian opposition, which will also include Islamic movements, will be able to lead Syria and will not be a threat to the region.
Turkey, which started a process of national reconciliation with the Kurds, estimates that this reconciliation is likely to widen its influence on the Kurdish minority in Syria, which will be a significant force in the country’s political developments. A Turkish political source told Haaretz that Turkey does not see Israel as a factor that can help resolve the crisis in Syria or participate in the battle against chemical weapons stockpiles if such a battle develops. “Israel’s importance regarding Syria is in intelligence sharing, not joint conduct of the battle in Syria,” said the source.
On the Turkish side, the committee will be led by Turkey's Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who has also served in the past as ambassador to Israel.
A year ago, both sides already reached an agreement in principle to transfer the compensation to a special humanitarian fund to be established by the Turkish government. This was to avoid the need for direct negotiations between Israel and the victims' families. Turkish sources told Haaretz that the amount to be paid by Israel is still unknown, but is “tens of millions of dollars.”
Those same sources said that the compensation payment, whose scope will be determined by Turkey, was the “simplest clause in all mediation efforts between the sides, but it is possible that it now may be made more complex, as Israel is demanding the cancellation of all charges filed against Israeli officers, and of the legal proceedings that had begun against them. Turkey can undertake not to submit any charges against Israelis, but it is not legally possible [for it to] to cancel private proceedings that have already begun. The only thing is to try to persuade their families to withdraw their claims, but there is no way to force them to do so.”
Arinc also clarified that the date of Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to Gaza and the West Bank has not yet been set: “The prime minister wants to visit Palestine but the visit has not yet been confirmed. If it will be possible then the visit will take place; if not, then it won’t,” Arinc said. At the start of the month, there were reports that Turkey had decided to raise the level of diplomatic representation in the territories, and to appoint the Jerusalem Consul General, Şakir Özkan Torunlar, to the post of ambassador to Palestine. Turkey denied the appointment.
A senior diplomatic source told Haaretz that Erdogan was under American pressure not to visit Gaza at a time when relations between Turkey and Israel are beginning to thaw. The source added that “Turkey is examining the possibility of a high-level visit to Israel, probably by Foreign Minister Davutoglu before he visits Gaza and the West Bank. If the compensation agreement is paid without any complications, there is also the option that Turkey will invite high-level Israel officials to visit Ankara.”
Turkish analysts said on Monday that Erdogan, who received the text of Netanyahu's apology via email before he spoke on the phone with the Israeli prime minister, already agreed in June 2011 to a softened apology, according to which "the killings and wounding aboard the Mavi Marmara were not carried out intentionally." This is in contrast to Turkey's official position, that accused Israel of a deliberate attack.
Kadri Gursel of the newspaper Milliyet wrote Monday that Erdogan agreed to an apology that referred to the deaths of Turkish civilians aboard the Gaza flotilla vessel as "an operational error," as he agreed to a softened apology saying that Israel would commit to easing the conditions of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, instead of a text that demands that the lifting of the blockade.