Netanyahu: Reconciliation With Turkey Hampered Over Hamas' Activities and Gaza Blockade

Prime minister says hurdles still must be overcome before reconciliation agreement reached, notes Turkey has expelled Hamas mastermind Aruri, though group's command post in Istanbul still operative.

Netanyahu at the Likud faction meeting, December 21, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Several hurdles must still be overcome before a reconciliation agreement with Turkey is signed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud Knesset faction on Monday.

“There are ongoing talks with Turkey, but there are no understandings, and we’re not there yet,” he said, according to a senior government official who was present at the meeting.

He added that the sides are still at odds over Hamas’ activities in Turkey and Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu told the MKs that Turkey has deported Saleh Aruri, a senior official in Hamas’ military wing. Yet Aruri’s departure was primarily due not to Israeli demands, but to American pressure on Ankara. The U.S. Treasury Department has put Aruri on its blacklist of terrorists whose assets should be frozen and with whom economic ties are forbidden.

Aruri set up a Hamas command post in Istanbul from which he directed terrorist cells in the West Bank. But even after he left Turkey, Netanyahu told the MKs, the Istanbul command post continues to operate.

“Deporting Aruri isn’t enough for us,” the senior official quoted him as saying. “We want to ensure that there is no terrorist activity against Israel from Turkey.”

Over the weekend, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Israel had fulfilled only one of Turkey’s three conditions for restoring normal relations: apologizing for the death of 10 Turkish nationals in a botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in 2010. He said the other two conditions – paying compensation to the families of those killed and ending the blockade of Gaza – had not yet been satisfied.

Netanyahu didn’t discuss the compensation issue at Monday’s meeting, but Israel has previously agreed to pay $20 million into a special fund that would be established for the families. In contrast, the prime minister rejected the demand to end the blockade of Gaza.

“We won’t change our policy on the naval blockade,” he said. “We are transferring equipment to Gaza and assisting in its reconstruction, but we won’t concede our security.”

Senior Israeli officials said that Netanyahu’s remarks on Monday were meant as a corrective to the overly optimistic messages about an imminent reconciliation with Turkey that had emerged from the Prime Minister’s Office over the previous few days. The government, they explained, now realizes that these statements were exaggerated and premature.

“This agreement isn’t even half-baked,” one official said.

Those enthusiastic statements also required both the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office to issue reassurances to the governments of Greece and Cyprus last week. Over the past few years, Israel’s relations with both countries have grown much closer, and both were very surprised by last Thursday’s sudden announcement of a breakthrough in the Israeli-Turkish negotiations.

The surprise was especially great because just a day earlier, the directors general of the Israeli, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministries had met in Jerusalem to prepare for a trilateral summit among the countries’ leaders in Nicosia on January 28. Yet Israeli officials made no mention at this meeting of any progress in the talks with Turkey.

Over the past few days, the Israeli ambassadors in Athens and Nicosia have been ordered by the Foreign Ministry to convey reassurances on this issue to senior Greek and Cypriot officials. Netanyahu himself spoke with the president of Cyprus and told him that a reconciliation with Turkey wouldn’t undermine Israel’s relationship with Cyprus.

“They asked us if the process with Turkey would be at their expense, and we said nothing would come at the expense of our relations with any other country,” a senior Israeli official involved in the talks with Greece and Cyprus said.