Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said Israel is ready to discuss the issue of an “apology” for the Mavi Marmara incident in a package with Turkey, maintaining that given the developments in the region, there are more reasons, especially today, for Turkey and Israel to return to normal diplomatic relations.
Although Lieberman has made clear that he “sees no reason why Israel must apologize” for the tragic incident in which eight Turks and a Turkish-American, all civilians, were killed by Israeli soldiers who raided, in international waters in 2010, the Mavi Marmara headed for the Gaza Strip carrying humanitarian aid, “We are ready to discuss the issue at the table,” he announced, speaking to a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem on Sunday evening.
But the Israeli side is only willing to take up the issue of an “apology” in a package together with “many [other] issues such as the Iranian problem, the Gaza Strip, support for Hamas.” Noting that they want to keep relations at all levels, in addition to just the political level, going with Turkey, he claimed the present state of affairs does not offer Turkey any advantages, either. “I think we have much more common interests between the two countries than contradictions. Maybe today that is more clear considering the Syrian issue. But it is not our choice,” he commented, also adding that Israel’s relations with Turkey stand, at present, at a “very interesting point.”
Describing the present political situation in the Middle East, popularly called the Arab Spring, as “very interesting”, Lieberman stated, “[This is] the biggest political, dramatic event in the last 20 years since the collapse of the USSR,” adding that Israel stood apart in the region with its stable democracy as well as its economy and technology.
Lieberman, who claimed that the Mavi Marmara carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza was a “clear provocation,” and that Turkey’s Humanitarian Aid Association (İHH), one of the main organizers of the Gaza flotilla which the Israeli military raided on May 31 two years ago, was actually a terrorist organization, maintained that an apology on the part of Israel regarding the Mavi Marmara incident would not improve relations between Turkey and Israel, saying: “An apology will change nothing. There is a long list of conditions [demanded by Turkey] such as the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, with Israel drawing back to the borders before 1967.”
Israel hopes to resolve the Mavi Marmara issue and is willing to improve its overall relations with Turkey. But at present, the political relations between the two countries remain in a deadlock. Lieberman finds the statements made by leading Turkish politicians in recent years regarding Israel not only provocative but also insulting, and he made a point of noting that Israel still chose to remain silent not to “create unnecessary tension.” “If I would take only the last four months, there were a lot of accusations [regarding Israel] in the speeches of your prime minister and minister of foreign affairs,” he said, adding that the Israeli side is trying to keep its silence despite the verbal attacks.
For Lieberman, who is known to be hawkish in his political views, it is a one-sided approach as prejudiced views actually block the way to a solution in most cases. Surprisingly enough, as regards finding a solution to the tragic Mavi Marmara incident, for which he used the term “accident”, he seemed to preach the middle path. “I don’t think we are absolutely right. [And] I don’t think we are absolutely wrong. [The] truth is in the middle,” he said, adding that it would not be a realistic approach to put all the blame on Israel.
The Israeli minister claimed that Turkey decided to confront Israel in an effort to be perceived by the man on the street in Arab countries as the leader of the Islamic world. “It was a strategic decision of Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs, and of [Recep] Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish premier,” he maintained, saying that “for Turkey to become the leader of the Islamic world, the best way is to confront Israel; and it’s the same regarding the Gaza Strip blockade.”
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lieberman sees no connection between the Arab Spring and the situation of the Palestinians. “I don’t see any link between our dispute with the Palestinians and the uprising in the Middle East,” he said. For him, the answer to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians lies with economic development. “Our biggest problem with the Palestinians is the big difference between the GDPs [gross domestic product],” he admitted, also adding: “It is not only enough to topple a dictator, like was done in Iraq. You must think how to create more jobs, how to establish a proper democracy,” referring to the Arab countries where mass uprisings toppled the ruling governments.
Deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel, which previously enjoyed rather good relations at all levels, started at the end of 2008 when, Israel, which was on the point of concluding a peace agreement with Syria, with Turkey acting as mediator, suddenly bombarded the Gaza Strip, eliminating all hopes for peace with Syria. Turkey felt deceived at the time and had the impression that its efforts for peace were not given due respect by Israel. Then came the Davos summit in Switzerland in January 2009, where Erdoğan strongly protested Israeli President Shimon Peres for bombarding Gaza and walked out of the forum. Then in May 2010 came the raid by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara, which was headed for Gaza, where nine civilians, all of Turkish origin, were killed in international waters.