Turkey is being more flexible over Israeli compensation for the victims of an Israel Defense Forces raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla over three years ago, offering to accept a lower figure than it had demanded in the past, a senior Israeli official said Sunday.
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This could be the breakthrough that leads to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing the new Turkish offer.
Efforts have been made over the past several months to mend ties between Israel and Turkey, which began to fray during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza in early 2009 and broke down in May 2010, when nine Turkish nationals were killed on the Mavi Marmara as the IDF headed off a Gaza-bound flotilla aimed a breaking the Israeli naval blockade of the Strip. The crisis led to the downgrading of diplomatic relations between the two countries; the Israeli ambassador was expelled from Ankara in September 2011.
In March, during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, things began to look up. Prompted by Obama, Netanyahu and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone. Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for the flotilla incident and both men agreed to begin the process of restoring relations.
Since then there have been several rounds of talks, but they reached an impasse over the amount Israel will pay to individuals injured in the naval raid and the families of those killed. After the Washington Post reported in October that Turkey had given Iran information about Israeli Mossad agents, the talks went into an undeclared freeze.
But earlier this month, according to the Israeli source, Turkey offered to resume negotiations. Israel agreed and within a few days a senior delegation went to Istanbul. Headed by National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, it including the prime minister’s envoy to the Turkish reconciliation talks, Joseph Ciechanover, and acting Foreign Ministry Director General Nissim Ben-Sheetrit.
Ben-Sheetrit’s participation indicates that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is considered an opponent of reconciliation with Turkey, is deeply involved in the contacts. After years in which the Foreign Ministry was almost totally cut off from the talks with Turkey, Lieberman this time demanded that a senior ministry representative be part of the negotiating team.
The Israeli team spent several hours at the Conrad Hotel in Istanbul with the Turkish team, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu, a former Turkish ambassador to Israel. The focus of the session was the level of compensation.
In May, Haaretz reported that Turkey was demanding $1 million for the family of each victim, while Israel was prepared to pay only $100,000. The senior official said that at the Istanbul meeting Turkey made a lower offer.
“The agreement is ready; all that’s left is to fill in the blank with a number. There are still differences regarding the amounts, but they have narrowed,” the senior Israeli official said, adding, “There is a will on both sides to wrap things up as soon as possible and normalize relations.”
In the event of an agreement on the compensation, Jerusalem and Ankara are expected to immediately announce an upgrading of relations and the exchange of ambassadors. In addition, the Turkish government will pass a law withdrawing all claims against IDF officers and soldiers connected to the flotilla raid and will block any similar claims in the future. Turkey will also cease to work against Israel in international forums.