Cabinet Ministers Receive Text of Israel-Turkey Reconciliation Deal Before Wednesday's Vote

At least three ministers are expected to vote against the agreement with Turkey while two remain undecided ahead and Ankara begins planning appointments of new ambassadors.

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Netanyahu and Lieberman at the Knesset on May 30, 2016.
Netanyahu and Lieberman at the Knesset on May 30, 2016.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Security cabinet ministers received a copy of the Israel-Turkey rapprochement deal from the prime minister's office on Tuesday along with the accompanying letter in which Turkey commits to help bring an end to the case of the missing and imprisoned Israelis in Gaza. 

According to two of the ministers, the Prime Minister's Office originally scheduled just 90 minutes to discuss and vote on the agreement on Wednesday morning at 9:30 A.M. despite fierce public and political debate that has developed over the issue in the last two days. After multiple ministers criticized the timing, the meeting was moved up to 8:30 A.M. and is now scheduled at last at least two-and-a-half hours until 11:00 A.M.

The two ministers, who requested to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that the agreement itself is three pages long. One page discusses the expected compensation payments and the other two pages deal with the normalization of relations between the two countries. According to the ministers, there are no details or clauses in the text that have not already been made public.

The accompanying letter regarding the Israelis in Gaza covers just half of one page. The letter is addressed to the prime minister's special envoy to reconciliation talks with Turkey, Joseph Ciechanover. The letter is signed by the outgoing Turkish undersecretary of foreign affairs Feridun Sinirlioğlu.

In the letter, Sinirlioğlu states that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ordered all relevant government institutions to make any and all efforts possible to bring an end to the issue of the Israelis missing in Gaza for humanitarian reasons. The letter also states specifically that this issue has no connection to the reconciliation agreement or the process of normalization but will take place separately as a show of good will from Turkey.

A senior official in Jerusalem said that there's real concern at the Prime Minister's Bureau that a majority to approve the reconciliation agreement with Turkey won't be reached at the security-diplomatic cabinet meeting.

The senior official noted that a few of the cabinet ministers are weighing political considerations over the diplomatic and security considerations with which the reconciliation agreement be viewed. "A large part of the ministers know that this deal is good, but they're scared they'll be called leftists," the senior official said.

According to him, due to Netanyahu's uncertainty regarding the ability to rally support for the reconciliation agreement in the cabinet, it's still unclear whether a vote will take place at the end of the meeting or whether there'll be need to postpone it and hold another cabinet discussion.

Despite the concern spreading from the Prime Minister's Bureau, it's most likely that a majority to approve the deal will be reached.

In order for the agreement not to pass through, its opponents – Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – will need to recruit another three ministers on their side.

The senior official estimated that Interior Minister Arye Dery and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will support the reconciliation agreement, meaning that its opponents will need to convince Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to oppose the deal – a hard thing to come by. If it does happen, it may bring to the breakdown of the coalition.  

Erdoğan's spokesperson, who was sent to Rome for the final round of talks on Sunday, said Tuesday that the process of normalizing relations was expected to move forward this week, with the appointment of new ambassadors to Ankara and Tel Aviv. He also said that Turkey's policy toward the Palestinians would not change as a result of the agreement and that Turkish experts would be sent to Gaza this week to take note of the most urgent humanitarian needs, particularly with respect to reconstruction in the wake of destruction caused by 2014's Operation Protective Edge.

There have been no in depth discussions in the security cabinet on the agreement with Turkey over the past several months. Instead, at the end of a few meetings, acting national security adviser Jacob Nagel gave short updates to the ministers on progress in talks with Turkey.

On last Wednesday and Thursday before the decisive round of negotiations that took place in Rome on Sunday, Nagel spoke with all the security cabinet ministers by phone, excluding Lieberman, who was in the U.S., and updated them on the main points of the agreement and on the attempt to get the letter from the Turks regarding the missing and captured Israelis in Gaza.

On Monday, after the press conference during which Netanyahu announced that an agreement had been reached, Cabinet Secretary David Sharan called the cabinet ministers, passing along a request from the prime minister not to comment publically on the subject or express opinions regarding the agreement until the full text was passed on for inspection. That text was only delivered Tuesday afternoon, after Dori Gold, the Director General of the Foreign Ministry, officially signed the document.

Also on Monday, before Netanyahu departed from Rome to return to Israel, Naftali Bennett called Nagel and requested another update on the final agreement. After Bennett was updated and understood that there would not be any significant changes to the character of the deal, he decided Tuesday morning to oppose the agreement and released a statement stating that he and Shaked would be voting against rapprochement.

Besides Bennett, Shaked and Defense Minister Lieberman who said they would vote against the deal, a majority of the remaining ministers have kept their positions vague. One who sounded as though he was prepared to vote down the agreement was Kahlon. During a trip to the southern town of Dimona, Kahlon expressed anger that the cabinet meeting will take place after the agreement has already been officially signed.

Kahlon said that his vote would not be influenced by considering the governing coalition, but by his principals. "I don't feel obligated to anyone's signature," he said. "I feel obligated to logic and to my vote. Those who've signed have signed. There's a cabinet - we need to make the decision. I'll read the document and make my decision."

On the opposing side of the aisle, a member of Kahlon's own party, Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant said Monday that he supports the reconciliation deal and will vote in favor at the cabinet meeting.

Interior Minister Dery is also expected to support the agreement, though sources close to him said Tuesday that he will make a decision only after reading the document and studying it thoroughly. Energy minister Steinitz has voiced support for rapprochement with Turkey and his also expected to support the current agreement. 

Only Transportation Minister Katz and Public Security Minister Erdan have yet to voice an opinion on the deal and sources in their offices said that they still have not formulated a position and that they would decide after reading the full details of the agreement.

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