Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated Monday evening that Israel will not apologize to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident in which nine armed terror activists were killed after they attacked IDF commandos.
“We do not want to apologize to Turkey – but we are ready to express sorrow, as we have expressed, over the loss of life,” he said.
“But first, we want to protect our soldiers,” he added. “We demand that Turkey recognize that Israel did not act maliciously and that our soldiers acted in self-defense.”
The prime minister made the comments Monday in an interview on Israel's Channel 10 television. He added that Israel also expects Turkey to dissolve all international legal proceedings against the Jewish State in connection with the incident.
The eight Turkish nationals and U.S. citizen who were killed were all members of the Turkish terror-linked IHH organization that had sponsored the Mavi Marmara. The ship was part of an attempt by a six-vessel flotilla to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
The ships ignored repeated requests by Israeli naval personnel to change course for Ashdod port. When IDF commandos boarded the vessels, the IHH members on the Mavi Marmara stabbed them with knives and beat them with metal rods and clubs. The five other vessels were brought to port without incident.
Turkey has continued to insist that Israel apologize for the May 31 incident and compensate the families of the slain attackers – a demand that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has referred to as “chutzpah.” Lieberman also accused Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of lying after Davutoglu implied that Israel might delay sending assistance if Turkey were to suffer a humanitarian disaster.
Netanyahu's office responded within hours, striving to contain the diplomatic damage by saying Lieberman's remarks constitute his own “personal assessments and positions.”
Monday night's remarks were a rehash of that effort, with the prime minister continuing to insist his foreign minister's remarks did not represent the government's view as Netanyahu strove to appear imperturbable.
“The foreign minister is not humiliating me,” he said. “He is expressing his views. Under Israel's system of government, ministers always express their views. We have a coalition, and we have different views.
“In this case we have Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and HaBayit HaYehudi – [and] they all have different views,” he said.
The bottom line, Netanyahu added, still ends at his own desk.
“The final opinion is that decided upon by the government and that which is expressed by the prime minister,” he said pointedly. “That's how it has been in all the governments.”
Interim Agreement with PA More Likely
Netanyahu also addressed the issue of whether to pursue the rapidly fading dream of a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority, saying an interim agreement appeared more likely at this point.
Until recently, Netanyahu had been willing to go along with U.S. efforts to secure a final status agreement with a short period of a few months at most. But that prospect seems increasingly unlikely as the PA continues its campaign for recognition of unilateral statehood from nations around the world.
Netanyahu appears to have become resigned to the fact that an assessment expressed recently by Lieberman – that an interim agreement is the only reasonable option left – is the most accurate.
“I set out a clear policy in the Bar Ilan speech,” he noted. “There I said that if the Palestinians recognize the Jewish State and give up the right of Palestinian refugees to return... I mean, if they recognize a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State, I announce here and now that I will see it through to the end.”
However, he said, at the end of the day, the process may end up leading to an interim agreement, rather than a final status deal.
“This may be where the diplomatic process leads us,” he said. An interim agreement is the only option left, he said, if the two sides fail to reach an understanding on Jerusalem and the “right of return” for millions of foreign Arabs claiming residency in pre-1948 Israel.