Turkish and Israeli Negotiators to Meet Thursday in Bid to Seal Reconciliation Agreement

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Benjamin Netanyahu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan on poster in Turkey after flottila incidentCredit: AFP

Negotiating teams from Israel and Turkey will meet on Thursday in Europe in an effort to bridge the remaining gaps standing in the way of a reconciliation agreement between the two countries that would lead to a normalization of relations. Such an agreement, if reached, would come nearly six years after ties greatly deteriorated as a result of a confrontation on the Mediterranean between Israel Navy commandos and pro-Gaza activists on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara in 2010.

Senior Israeli officials noted that in recent weeks, and since the latest round of negotiations between the two countries, several drafts have been exchanged between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy, Joseph Ciechanover, and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu on the provisions of the reconciliation agreement that are still in dispute.  

The two main issues remaining to be resolved in the reconciliation agreement relate to Israel's demand that Turkey put a halt to the operations of the Hamas military headquarters in Istanbul and Turkey's demand that Israel take certain steps to ease the situation in the Gaza Strip. In a speech last week to the Brookings Institution in Washington, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was interested in having Israel "remove the embargo" on Gaza and allow Turkey to bring a power generator ship to the Gaza coast to supply electricity to the territory.

A senior Israeli official noted that when it comes to Gaza, Turkey will not be granted a special status, and Israel is willing to allow it to operate in the Strip in accordance with the same terms that apply to any country wishing to transfer aid. 

Another issue still under discussion is the order of the steps that will be taken after a deal is signed. The senior Israeli official noted that only after all the standing cases against Israeli soldiers and officers in Turkey are closed will Israel transfer $20 million to a humanitarian fund, to be used as compensation for the families of Turkish citizens killed in the Mavi Marmara incident.

The official was carefully optimistic about the coming round of the negotiations. "There's a will to get it over with," he said. "We haven't seen such positive comments from Turkey in the last six years. We hope to find a formula that will enable an agreement."

In recent weeks, Erdogan has been conveying a series of messages to Jerusalem both publicly and through diplomatic channels regarding his desire to come to a reconciliation agreement. Last week, the Turkish president met in Washington with the leaders of major American Jewish organizations, telling them that he hoped to come to an agreement with Israel as soon as possible.

In another development, following last month's terrorist attack in Istanbul in which three Israelis were among the dead, Erdogan sent a condolence letter to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Several days later, the two presidents spoke by phone at Rivlin's initiative. The call, which lasted about six minutes, dealt exclusively with the terrorist attack in Istanbul. The two leaders did not discuss the negotiations over the reconciliation agreement. 

This was the first conversation held between the Turkish president and a senior Israeli official since March 2013, when Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with Erdogan, who was prime minister of Turkey at the time. Netanyahu apologized over the deaths of Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara confrontation.

On the day of Rivlin's telephone conversation with Erdogan, Netanyahu told a news conference that he convened that he hopes that the next meeting between the Turkish and Israeli negotiating teams "will produce positive results" and make the rehabilitation of relations between the countries possible. 

"We have always wanted correct relations with Turkey and it wasn't us who changed the direction of the relations," Netanyahu said. "If possible, we would like to normalize the ties."

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