Bennett Blasts Terms of Turkey Reconciliation Deal as Harming Israel's 'National Honor'

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Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, May 30, 2016.
Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, May 30, 2016.Credit: Isaac Harari, Knesset Spokesperson's Office

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who led the dissent on Israel's reconciliation agreement with Turkey, reportedly told the security cabinet on Wednesday that if Israel had insisted on refusing Turkey’s demands, it would have been possible to resume bilateral relations with a better deal.

According to a senior official familiar with details of the meeting, Bennett told the ministers that the agreement constitutes a blow to Israel’s national honor, and that more weight should have been given to this consideration when a decision was made on this issue.

“Resumption of ties with Turkey is an important national interest but in the end, my balance sheet comes out against it,” he reportedly said. “Erdogan either sent a boat of terrorists to Israel, or allowed one to be sent; we sent soldiers to defend ourselves, and now we’re apologizing and sending them compensation. This harms Israel’s resilience and national honor. Is national honor a component of national security? In my opinion, yes. It has even greater weight because there’s no other country that apologizes to its attackers. If we had shot down a passenger plane by mistake then of course we’d have to apologize and pay compensation, but not in this situation.”

Bennett also told the ministers that Turkey needs the reconciliation deal no less than Israel does. “Both of us have an interest in signing a reconciliation agreement,” he stressed. “That’s why the best thing is for there to be an equation — resuming diplomatic ties in return for resuming diplomatic ties. Not for money and not for all the other things. If we’d insisted, we could have gotten a different agreement. Would Turkey have never resumed relations without $20 million?”

The education minister said that governments have a tendency to give too much weight to the present and not enough consideration to future consequences. “The Jibril [prisoner exchange] and the Shalit [prisoner exchange] seemed logical at the time, but with time we’ve seen that they did damage,” he said.

Bennett noted that the claim that the deal prevents lawsuits against Israel Defense Forces soldiers is liable to be a double-edged sword.

“We can’t turn the threat of lawsuits into something that we’re prepared to pay $20 million to cancel,” he said. “We’re conveying to everyone: ‘Come, sue us,’ because that’s our weak point. There’s no way to pinpoint exactly how much this hurts us. With our own hands we will turn this into a strategic threat." He added, "We can deal with lawsuits. Will we now pay billions just to prevent lawsuits against soldiers?"

Defense or diplomacy

During the meeting, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon wondered why neither Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot or Director of Military Intelligence Herzl Halevi were there to present the IDF’s position on the agreement. Other ministers soon joined Kahlon in asking why the army's viewpoint was not represented. Two ministers present at the meeting, who preferred to remain unnamed, said that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman deflected the questions, saying that the agreement with Turkey was a diplomatic matter, not a security or military issue, and there was no reason for IDF officers to be involved.

The two said they got the impression that the IDF representatives were supposed to be at the meeting but that Lieberman had blocked them from attending. One of the ministers speculated that it was because senior IDF officers had long supported ending the crisis and signing an agreement with Turkey. “Perhaps Lieberman didn’t want the army expressing a position that contradicts his,” one of the ministers said.

The defense minister's office responded that no military personnel had been invited to the discussion. The issue was raised prior to the meeting with the prime minister's military secretary, and it was decided that due to the nature of the meeting, which was diplomatic rather than relating to security, their presence was not necessary.