Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu categorically dismissed opposition claims late on Monday in a televised interview that a minister had visited Israel to repair ties with the Jewish state, asserting that “not even a Turkish committee visited Israel” after the Mavi Marmara incident, “let alone a minister.”
Davutoğlu responded to main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in an interview with Beyaz TV, saying he is the foreign minister of Turkey and that he has no information about what the CHP leader alleged.
Davutoğlu said no Turkish minister had visited Israel after the Mavi Marmara incident and that Turkey even had to take a different position vis-à-vis this country following Israel's treatment of the Turkish ambassador in early January of last year.
Turkey's ambassador to Israel at the time, Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol, was summoned by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon for a humiliating public reprimand. Ayalon summoned Çelikkol to protest a Turkish TV show depicting Israeli agents as cruel and refused to shake his hand. He also had the Turkish ambassador sit on a low sofa. Israel was forced to apologize after Turkey threatened to summon its ambassador home.
The foreign minister said not even an official Turkish committee had made a visit to Israel, let alone a minister.
Davutoğlu recalled a meeting he had with Israeli minister Ben Eliezer on July 15 and said he had the talk to express Turkey's expectations for an apology and compensation.
Turkish and Israeli relations were severely strained after Israeli naval commandos attacked an aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, on May 31, killing nine civilians, including eight Turkish nationals. Turkey has sued Israel in international platforms and courts and demands an official apology and compensation for the families of the victims. Israel rejects the request and claims its soldiers acted in self-defense.
Davutoğlu found himself in the midst of what many termed a “Mavi Marmara debate” between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu -- a mutual squabble over who was soft on Israel.
Not surprisingly, it is believed that accusations surrounding Israel will gain votes for the leaders in upcoming parliamentary elections, slated for June 12. Erdoğan repeatedly blamed his major rival for speaking against the prime minister in Western media with respect to Israel and said “the opposition party leader told an Israeli TV station that he will repair ties with Israel if he becomes the prime minister.” Erdoğan slammed Kılıçdaroğlu for a possible attempt to mend ties, citing “nine martyrs.”
Kılıçdaroğlu responded to Erdoğan in a televised interview earlier on Monday and said it was Erdoğan who “sent his minister to Israel to repair ties.”
Observers speculated that Kılıçdaroğlu's statement was only a gaffe and that he was referring to Davutoğlu's meeting with the Israeli minister in Brussels and talks between Turkish and Israeli diplomats in Switzerland in the following weeks to draft out a statement on Israel's “regret” and compensation for the families of the flotilla victims.
Davutoğlu claimed that foreign ministers even meet during wartime and said such a meeting could be possible if Israel takes a step with regard to requests to meet. The foreign minister, however, reiterated that Turkey will not step down from its demand for an apology and compensation.
“We expect from our opposition to stand by our government on this issue, which has become a national matter,” Davutoğlu said, adding that Kılıçdaroğlu's interviews with Israeli media outlets and his criticisms of Turkey's policy back then will only strengthen Israel's arguments.
Davutoğlu said the opposition party first needs to hold Israel, which killed nine Turkish citizens, to account before scrutinizing the Turkish government.
Asked what the Turkish government's position would be regarding a new flotilla that is expected to set sail with 1,500 participants from various European ports, including Turkey, to try to breach Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, Davutoğlu said Turkey will maintain its principled position, as it did last year, and stressed that this is solely a civil society activity.
The Turkish foreign minister said Turkey cannot accept demands from states that do not call on Israel to “lift the blockade” but ask Turkey to prevent the activities of civil society organizations, an act that would run counter to Turkey's democratic culture. Turkey is of the view that Israel keeps the more than 1.5 million people in Gaza in an open-air prison.
Davutoğlu also said the organizers of the flotilla should consider current conditions, given the fact that Egypt recently opened the Rafah border crossing, and urged the organizers to take more careful steps to prevent a situation that could be exploited.
Davutoğlu also told a Turkish daily in an interview earlier on Monday that the organizers of the new flotilla, who are planning to depart for Gaza later this month, should wait and see how Egypt's lifting its embargo of Gaza affects the Hamas-run coastal strip.