Turkey Conditions Normalized Ties With Israel on 'Unrestricted Access' to Gaza

As Jerusalem and Ankara work towards rapprochement deal, senior Turkish officials say they won't accept restrictions on Gaza aid, claim end to Hamas activities not part of agreement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting of local administrators at his palace in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 26, 2015.
AP

Turkey is demanding Israel grant it "unrestricted access" in aiding the Gaza Strip as part of rapprochement talks between the two counties, Hürriyet daily news reported Saturday morning, citing senior Turkish officials involved in the negotiations.

According to the report, should Israel agree, it would meet Turkey's condition of lifting the blockade on Gaza – a major obstacle to efforts to normalize ties between the two nations.

Senior Turkish officials denied that Israel demanded Ankara put an end to all of Hamas' activities in Turkey as part of the deal. According to them, Jerusalem leaked misleading information to Israeli media to test the public's reaction and to show Israeli it had forced Turkey to expel Saleh al-Aruri, a senior official from Hamas' military wing, despite the fact that he had already left Turkey some time ago.

The Turkish officials added that the reconciliation deal did not include any articles pertaining to Hamas.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Istanbul. December 19, 2015. 
AP

The officials also said that in contradiction to reports in Israel, Turkish acquisition of Israeli natural gas or the passage of a gas pipe from Israel through Turkey were not part of the deal. According to them, the sides had agreed to address the issue independently after a rapprochement agreement had been reached.

The Turkish officials added that the onus was on Israel to offer Ankara to join any such energy initiatives, and that it would "not be the Turkish side that will run after the Israeli reserves."

A number of days after reports emerged of a breakthrough in the talks with Israel, Hamas chief Khaled Mashal arrived in Ankara and met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Officials noted that the visit was scheduled in advance and had no bearing on talks with Israel. According to the officials, the issue was raised during the meeting with Mashal and the Hamas leader did not voice any opposition of reservation to it. The officials added that Hamas contends that should a deal be reached between Turkey and Israel, Ankara could aid Gaza in a faster, efficient and more substantial manner.

Reuters

The report alleged that the Turkish government believes Israel has been delaying a deal to normalize since 2013. Officials said that Israel was reluctant to sign a deal in 2013 because of a corruption scandal involving senior Turkish government officials, which Jerusalem thought would destabilize the ruling AKP party. They further noted that the revolution in Egypt also led Israel to stall the deal, on the assumption that ties with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi would render cooperation with Turkey redundant.

Another issue which prevented Israel from formalizing the deal was the June 2015 elections in Turkey in which Erdogan's ruling party was initially dealt a serious blow, but after the second round of voting in November, with Erdogan's party emerging as the winner, Israel began to change its position, they claimed.

One of Israel's demands in the talks was that Erdogan and senior officials in his government cease public attacks on Israel once the deal was signed. Turkish officials say that a normalization of ties with Israel does not mean that Turkey cannot criticize Israel, especially in regards to Israel's military activities in Gaza. According to the officials, the tone and force of the criticism towards Israel following an accord will be contingent on Israel's attitude towards the Palestinians.

Last 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 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 addressed the issue on Monday, but didn’t mention the compensation issue, though 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.”