Obama Urges Netanyahu to Mend Ties With Turkey

Relations between Jerusalem and Ankara - two of the United States' key regional allies - have been in crisis since Mavi Marmara affair in 2010.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

United States President Barack Obama Wednesday used his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge the Israeli to take steps to end the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey. A senior White House official, who requested anonymity, said Obama underscored the White House's desire to maintain strong ties with both countries.

The official said the president "made clear that the United States values strong friendships with both Israel and Turkey." He added that Obama "urged the Israeli government to work toward normalization of ties between the two countries."

The U.S. has been determined to resolve tensions between Israel and Turkey, which reached a peak after nine Turkish nationals were killed in May 2010 on board the Mavi Marmara ship, which was part of the flotilla attempting to break the blockade of Gaza. In response, Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador in Ankara and downgraded diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Turkey has demanded an apology from Israel over the deaths of its nationals, compensation for their families and an end to the sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the two world leaders with whom Obama has been most actively engaged. Erdogan is considered a key Obama ally in the Muslim world, and the U.S. president has urged him in every conversation they have held to patch up relations with Israel – thus far with little success.

Israel and Turkey have attempted in recent months to reach a mutually agreed upon formulation of an apology that would put an end to the crisis. A few weeks ago, government representatives of the two countries met in Rome in an attempt to iron out their differences but little progress was made.

The situation was further exacerbated after Erdogan referred to Zionism as a "crime against humanity" at a United Nations conference in Vienna. Just like Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it becomes unavoidable that Islamophobia must be regarded as a crime against humanity, the Turkish prime minister said in his speech. His remarks were denounced in both Jerusalem and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Ankara a few days after Erdogan's speech, called the remarks "objectionable" and said they raised obstacles to reaching a Middle East peace deal.

The Danish newspaper Politiken Wednesday published an interview with Erdogan in which he said he was misunderstood. "I understand that my statement in Vienna led to some debate. But no one should misunderstand what I said," the Turkish prime minister said.

"Everyone should know that my criticism [is about] certain cases, particularly Gaza and the settlements and directed against Israeli policy," Erdogan told Politieken via email, ahead of his visit Wednesday to Denmark. "It is quite natural for us to continue to criticize Israel, as long as it has not abandoned its denial of the Palestinian state's right to exist.

"On the other hand, we have recognized and continue to recognize the Israeli state within the 1967 borders and on the basis of two-state solution."

Erdogan said his statement last month at a UN forum on tolerance in Vienna "openly condemned anti-Semitism" and "it clearly displays my position on this issue."

"In this context, I stand behind my remarks in Vienna," he said.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Credit: Reuters

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