The offer, broached by envoys in Geneva over the weekend, included measures for patching up ties but appeared to have fallen short of Turkey’s demand that Israel formally apologize for the deaths of the nine pro-Palestinian activists in May.
In Ankara, however, Turkish officials didn’t confirm any report regarding the content of the talks held between top Israeli and Turkish diplomats, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu calling the reports “speculative.”
“The reports are speculative. Meetings [between Turkish and Israeli officials] are going on,” Davutoğlu briefly said in response to questions at a joint press conference following his talks with visiting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
Nonetheless, Israeli officials in Jerusalem elaborated on the content of the ongoing talks, while speaking with the Reuters news agency.
“We made a compensation offer, and asked the Turks to do what needs to be done to address our legal concerns. We also want to see them return their ambassador and allow us to appoint a new ambassador in Ankara,” an Israeli official was quoted as saying by Reuters. “For now, however, there are still big obstacles,” the official added.
The draft offers Turkey some $100,000 to the families of each of the men shot dead by Israeli marines during brawls aboard the converted cruise ship, Mavi Marmara, and an Israeli expression of “regret” over the incident, Israeli diplomatic sources said.
On Wednesday, Ron Dermer, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister, said Israel and Turkey were discussing “the phrasing of a compromise that both sides can live with ... [and] that will get our relations with Turkey back on track and remove the whole affair from the international agenda.”
“We must remember that there are those at the United Nations, there are forces which would like to see our personnel arrested,” Dermer told Israel Radio. “What is important to the prime minister is to protect the marines and commanders. We have said at every discussion, at every meeting, that the troops acted in self-defense – there’s no question about it -- and not out of malice.”
Netanyahu, whose delegate to a UN probe of the bloodshed attended the rapprochement talks, meanwhile, faces opposition to such a deal from his hawkish foreign minister and government coalition partner, Avigdor Lieberman.
Rattled over private war-crimes suits filed abroad against its military brass and politicians by pro-Palestinian groups, Israel has tried to stave off any similar Turkish actions in global forums by quickly setting up two internal investigations whose findings will become its submission to the UN inquest. Turkey has dismissed the Israeli probes as insufficient.
The rapprochement talks followed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dispatch of planes to help Israel battle a forest fire that raged out of control last week. Netanyahu had pledged to “find ways to express our appreciation” to the Turks. But Erdoğan, a frequent scolder of Israel’s Palestinian policies, on Tuesday signaled no flexibility in Turkey’s terms. He even added an older demand that Hamas-ruled Gaza’s borders be opened.
“If there are those who want to start a new period, I repeat: They must accept their guilt, apologize and pay compensation. I say too that the embargoes, which have been eased but not sufficiently, should be lifted,” Erdoğan said.
The Mavi Marmara led an aid-ferrying flotilla that tried to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade, imposed with the declared aim of keeping arms away from Islamist Hamas cadres. A global outcry at the high seas seizure prompted Israel to allow more goods to reach Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians by land, but not by sea.
Among the most vocal champions of the blockade is Lieberman, who leads the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party in alliance with Netanyahu’s rightist Likud.
Political sources say Lieberman is often excluded from Israel’s more sensitive diplomatic contacts. Noting that several marines were injured in the Mavi Marmara raid, a Lieberman confidant told Reuters: “It’s the Turks who should be paying us compensation, and not the other way around.”
That foreshadowed a possible showdown in Netanyahu’s cabinet should the proposed rapprochement deal be brought for approval.
Lieberman was the architect of a diplomatic scandal carried out by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and targeting Turkey’s former Ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol in January. Çelikkol was called back to Ankara for “consultations” with the Turkish Foreign Ministry days after the lethal seizure of the Gaza-bound aid convoy and has not returned to Israel. Although a decree appointing Kerim Uras as the new ambassador to Israel went into effect in May, days before the Israeli attack, the post in Tel Aviv is still vacant.