Israeli, Turkish Diplomats Meet in Geneva in Effort to Repair Relations

Israel sends diplomat to meet with Turkish officials after Netanyahu phoned Turkish PM to thank him for his help in battling Carmel fire.

Israeli and Turkish officials met in Geneva on Sunday in an attempt to draft an agreement aiming to mend the foundering ties between the countries due to the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May.

Joseph Ciechanover, a senior Israeli diplomat, was sent to Geneva to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to thank him for sending firefighting planes to help battle the fire in northern Israel that killed 41 people.

erdogan netanyahu - Reuters / Hagai Frid - December 1 2010
Reuters / Hagai Frid

The Israeli and Turkish diplomats speculated that in an agreement, Israel would apologize to Turkey for the events of the Gaza flotilla and compensate it accordingly, and in exchange Turkey would return its ambassador to Tel-Aviv and agree to appoint a new Israeli envoy in Ankara.

A senior Turkish diplomat told Haaretz that the purpose of the meeting in Geneva was to discuss an agreement that would put an end to the crisis between the two countries.

Turkey demands that Israel apologize for killing nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara ship and compensate those hurt as a result of the Israel Defense Forces raid.

Earlier on Sunday, Erdogan underlined the Turkish position, saying Israel and Turkey would turn a new leaf in their relations, but first Israel would have to apologize and pay compensation. For its part, Israel is interested in normalization of relations with the Turks nearly six months after Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the country. Israel's crisis in relations with Turkey has also caused the Turks considerable diplomatic damage in Washington.

The Turks and Israelis involved in the current talks have said that the contacts were the initiative of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and follow the momentum created by the aid that Turkey provided to fight the fires in the Carmel region over the past week. The sources added, however, that talks are in their preliminary stage and will require additional meetings to come to an agreement that would gain the approval of Erdogan and Netanyahu.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been briefed on the contacts, which have been handled primarily by national security adviser Uzi Arad. Lieberman's office declined to comment on the matter, but ministry sources have said they believe Lieberman has reservations over the effort as he has said Israel will not apologize or pay compensation to the Turks.