U.K. Mediating Between Israel and Turkey in Bid to End Impasse

Britain delivering messages between Netanyahu and Turkey's PM, but no formula has yet been found to bridge the gaps.

The British government is attempting to mediate between Israel and Turkey in an effort to end the impasse between the two countries, Haaretz has learned.

A senior Israeli official said that in recent weeks, Britain has delivered messages between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but that no formula has yet been found to bridge gaps between the sides regarding an apology for the Israel Defense Forces killing of nine Turkish activists on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010.

Since that crisis erupted, British diplomats, together with counterparts from the United States and Germany, have made efforts to restore positive relations between Israel and Turkey, or at least prevent relations between the two states from going into a tailspin, the source said.

In recent months, as civil unrest has escalated in Syria, British officials have tried to revive diplomatic mediation between Israel and Turkey - an effort being coordinated with the U.S. government. Like the Americans, the British believe the crisis in Syria creates common interests between Israel and Turkey. Improvement in relations between Israel and Turkey, officials in London and Washington insist, will help stabilize affairs in the region.

On July 22, British Prime Minister David Cameron phoned Netanyahu. Following the conversation, Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying that the discussion focused on the murder of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last month and on British preparations for the London Olympics. But the conversation is also said to have addressed Israel's relations with Turkey. According to the Israeli source, Cameron told Netanyahu he was scheduled to meet soon with Erdogan; the Turkish leader was set to arrive in London for the opening ceremony of the Games. The source said Cameron asked his Israeli counterpart whether he might deliver a message on Israel's behalf to Erdogan. Apparently, Netanyahu volunteered a formula that could potentially bring an end to the impasse between Jerusalem and Ankara.

Cameron and Erdogan met on July 27 at 10 Downing Street. Cameron's office issued a statement after the meeting, saying that the two leaders mostly discussed events in Syria. At their joint press conference, the two dealt mainly with Syria. The issue of Turkey's relations with Israel was not mentioned in the statement issued by the British prime minister's office, but Haaretz has learned that it came up in the closed discussion between Cameron and Erdogan.

The senior Israeli official acknowledged that, up to now, the British diplomatic initiative has not yielded a breakthrough. However, the source added, the effort continues. The source said Erdogan continues to demand an explicit Israeli apology for the deaths of the Turkish activists onboard the Mavi Marmara that formed part of the Gaza flotilla, as well as compensation payments to the victims' families.

Netanyahu refuses to offer such an explicit apology. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Vice Prime Minster Moshe Ya'alon say that Israel and Turkey do not have identical interests regarding the crisis in Syria. They believe that Turkey hopes developments in Syria will bring a Muslim Brotherhood government into power there, one that has an ideological affinity with Turkey's AKP party.

The British Embassy in Israel said it had no response to this report. The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem stated that Netanyahu "will not relate to this issue."

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan