Israeli Security Cabinet Approves Turkey Reconciliation Agreement

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked voted against the deal.

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Netanyahu and Lieberman in May 2016.
Netanyahu and Lieberman in May 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

The Israeli security cabinet approved the reconciliation agreement with Turkey by a vote of seven to three on Wednesday afternoon. 

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked voted against the deal. The remaining ministers, Yoav Galant, Yuval Steinitz, Arye Dery, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and Yisrael Katz, voted in favor.  

Lieberman attended only half the meeting, leaving a note behind with his vote against the agreement. 

Two ministers at the meeting told Haaretz the debate lasted more than four hours and was one of the most serious and in depth sessions ever held by the current cabinet.

Several ministers expressed their anger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for holding the debate only after the agreement had already been signed, without any possibility of making any changes.

Bennett said the compensation deal for Turkish victims of the 2010 Israeli military raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla set a dangerous precedent that would hurt Israel down the line. He compared the compensation to the Jibril deal of the 1980s, when Israel released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in a swap for three soldiers captured in Lebanon.

Ze'ev Elkin, who attended the meeting only as an observer, said that had he been eligible to vote he would have supported the deal.

On Tuesday, a senior official in Jerusalem said there was uncertainty in the prime minister's bureau over whether the deal would be approved. The official said that a few  ministers were weighing political considerations over the diplomatic and security considerations with regard to the agreement.

"A large part of the ministers know that this deal is good, but they're scared they'll be called leftists," the senior official said.

Ministers received a copy of the rapprochement announced on Monday, along with the accompanying letter in which Turkey commits to help bring an end to the case of the missing Israelis in Gaza. 

In the letter, Sinirlioğlu states that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ordered all relevant government institutions to make any and all efforts possible to bring an end to the issue of the Israelis missing in Gaza for humanitarian reasons. The letter specifies that the promised efforts on Turkey's behalf regarding the missing Israelis is not a part of the agreement but a separate show of good will.

During Wednesday's meeting, Netanyahu convinced some of the ministers, including Dery and Kahlon, to support the agreement by promising to set up a ministerial team that would deal with efforts to return two Israelis missing in Gaza and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the enclave in the 2014 war.The team would work alongside Lior Lotan, the prime minister’s coordinator for prisoners-of-war and missing persons. 

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday that his "heart goes out to the Goldin and Shaul families," referring to parents of soldiers killed in a 2014 war but whose remains have not yet been recovered for burial.

Erdan said he met with these families this past week "and heard their complaints. I promised them I would ask tough questions at the cabinet session before making a decision. And so I did.

"My heart also goes out the family of Avera Mengistu who is still being held in Gaza," he said, referring to a mentally ill man who went missing after crossing the border into Gaza apparently of his own volition in September 2014. "We ought to do a lot more to bring these boys  home."

Ilan Mengistu, Avera's brother, said after the cabinet approved the agreement that "the ministers should be ashamed of themselves," accusing them of capitulating to political pressure. He said his family intends continue the fight to bring his brother home. 

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