Israel-Turkey Reconciliation Talks Progressing but No Deal Yet, Turkish Official Says

Several issues stand in the way of an agreement, including Turkish demands of unfettered access to the Gaza Strip, and Hamas activity in Turkey.

AFP

A senior Turkish official said Thursday that the reconciliation talks with Israel are going well, but emphasized that the sides have not yet achieved a breakthrough. "We have information to the effect that the talks are progressing well, but until we see the practical consequences of the talks we won't be able to say that there's a deal," said the spokesman for the ruling AKP party, Omer Celik.

The Israeli and Turkish teams began another round of negotiations in Switzerland on Wednesday in an attempt to overcome disputes and to achieve a reconciliation agreement. The talks continued through Thursday. Participating on the Israeli side are the prime minister's emissary for contacts with Turkey, Joseph Ciechanover, and acting National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel. Turkey is being represented in this round of talks by Undersecretary of State Feridun Sinirlioglu.

Several issues are still in dispute. The first is Turkey's demand to receive unfettered access to the Gaza Strip, including allowing Turkish vessels to arrive directly to Gaza. Israel disagrees, both because of its desire to maintain the blockade of Gaza and because of Egyptian opposition to increasing Turkish involvement in the Strip.

Another issue in dispute is Hamas activity in Turkey. Israel claims that although senior Hamas official Salah Aruri, who planned terror attacks on the West Bank from his Turkish place of residence, has been expelled from the country, there is still a Hamas command center in Istanbul that is involved in raising money and organizing attacks. Israel demands that Turkey close the Hamas offices and prevent the organization from engaging in military activity in the country.

In addition, Haaretz reported Wednesday that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is demanding the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, which are being held by Hamas in Gaza, be a part of any agreement for normalizing relations between the countries. A senior Israeli official said that among the cabinet ministers, Ya'alon stands almost alone in having reservations about signing the reconciliation agreement. In the past year he has presented a series of new conditions to Turkey that were not part of the negotiations until then. According to the official, Ya'alon's tough attitude is one reason why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hesitant about signing the agreement.