Netanyahu Tells U.S. Congressmen: Reconciliation Agreement With Turkey Is Very Close

In meeting with visiting lawmakers, PM is highly optimistic over normalization of ties with former close ally Turkey, sources say; crucial meeting between negotiating teams expected to be held in Europe next week.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a delegation of visiting U.S. congressmen on Monday that an agreement on reconciliation with Turkey is very close, said sources involved in the meeting. However, officials in Jerusalem are still waiting to set the decisive meeting between the two negotiating teams during which the remaining disagreements are meant to be closed.

Netanyahu was very optimistic about relations with Turkey, repeating his statements on the matter three times during the meeting with the congressmen, said the sources. Netanyahu noted that while relations will not return the level they were at a decade ago, normalization will help both nations in advancing a long list of shared regional interests.

The remaining differences between Israel and Turkey only involve the wording of the compromise concerning the Hamas military headquarters operating in Istanbul, which Israel is demanding to close down, said a senior Israeli official. The decisive meeting between the two negotiating teams was supposed to have been held a few weeks ago, but was postponed after the resignation of former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the appointment of a new prime minister in his stead. The next meeting is expected to be held next week in Europe.

In recent weeks, Turkey has sent a number of positive signals towards Israel, including ending its veto over Israeli cooperation with NATO, said the senior Israeli official. In addition, for the first time in five years, Turkey sent senior officials from its foreign ministry to the annual reception at the Israeli embassy in Ankara.

Officials from Turkey and Israel are holding more meetings to normalize relations and two out of Ankara's three conditions for reviving ties have been met, Turkish deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on Monday. Israel has agreed to apologize for the deaths of Turkish citizens during the Gaza Flotilla in 2010, and is also willing to pay $20 million in compensation to the families of those killed and injured, he said.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Kurtulmus said lifting Israel's embargo on the Gaza Strip was important for normalization. A senior Israeli official said the two countries have reached understandings that will allow Turkey to play a part in the process of rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, as well as building infrastructure facilities there, such as power and desalinization plants.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a press briefing in Zagreb, Croatia a month ago that Turkey offered during negotiations to send a ship, anchored in Israel's Ashdod port, to provide electricity for Gaza to help cope with the Strip's severe energy crisis. He said Israel was reluctant, and offered the establishment of a power plant within Gaza, carried out between Turkey and Germany, as an alternative project.

"We said that could be possible," said Erdogan. "We still haven't given up on the ship. Israel is also positive toward our proposal to address Gaza's water problem through water desalination plants or wells. There is also a need for schools and hospitals. We are seeking donors. Some have promised to contribute."

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