Turkish Rep on UN Flotilla Probe Tells Haaretz: Now Is Israel's Last Chance to Apologize

Envoy Ozdem Sanberk says time is running out for Israel to restore ties to the former level.

The Turkish representative on the UN commission investigating the fatal events surrounding last year's flotilla to Gaza told Haaretz yesterday that July 27, when the commission's report is published, is the "last chance" to solve the crisis between Jerusalem and Istanbul.

Ozdem Sanberk did not deny reports in the Turkish media that a memorandum of understanding, with the blessing of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been worked out to end the crisis.

turkey - Reuters - July 17 2011

However, he said, Turkey was waiting for Israel's response.

According to the Turkish daily Sabah, Israel and Turkey have reached a draft agreement to end the crisis between the two countries, which includes an Israeli apology for what has been called an operational failure on Israel's part during the takeover of the blockade-busting Mavi Marmara, which led to the deaths of nine Turkish nationals.

A draft of the memorandum of understandings has been given to Erdogan, who approved it, the paper said.

Sabah also said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has still not responded to the draft, and that he has until July 27 to do so.

With regard to the existence of the draft, Sanberk told Haaretz: "I am not in a position to say yes or no. I am involved in the multilateral track. But there is no new round of talks for now. We are waiting for Israel's response."

The Prime Minister's Bureau declined to respond to a query from Haaretz about the draft.

Though Netanyahu faces pressure from abroad to reach a detente with Ankara, both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon oppose an Israeli apology as the way to end the crisis, complicating matters.

Sanberk, who was formerly director-general of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, was involved in all the talks between Israel and Turkey over the past year, including the most recent talks, in New York, between Ya'alon and the current director general of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Feridun Sinirlioglu.

In a telephone interview from Turkey, Sanberk told Haaretz that an Israeli apology would restore normalcy.

"We could have solved this thing one day after the incident - we wasted a whole year," he said. "If Israel apologizes we will send the ambassador back to Tel Aviv right away and we will have the same relations that we had for many years. We will have disagreements but we will talk and try to solve them. But this is done only in normal diplomatic relations and this is not the case right now."

Sanberk did not reveal details of talks between the parties, but said the right formula had to be found that would put the issue to rest. "Nine persons were killed and many wounded but no explanation was provided by Israel for this. Forensic evidence shows that they were shot multiple times. On the other hand, no Israeli soldier was killed. These are two countries that never fought against each other and one of them lost nine citizens. We are entitled to an apology," he said.

According to Sanberk, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, not Turkey as has been reported, had asked for a delay in publication of the commission report - in order to give the parties more time to talk.