Israel is ready to solve any outstanding disputes with Turkey, but it will not apologize to Ankara for the deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara ship in May 2010, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.
Lieberman made the comments during a meeting on Sunday with a group of journalists from Turkey in his office in Jerusalem. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported his comments on Monday.
“As Israel, we are ready to discuss [our problems with Turkey] in high-level or low-level open meetings,” said Lieberman. “We’re really ready to discuss not only this issue but also the Iranian problem, the Gaza issue or the support for Hamas. But [we’re not ready] to discuss in what way we will protect our citizens.”
The meeting was Lieberman’s first with a Turkish delegation since the incident on the Marmara, which occurred when the ship refused to turn aside when ordered to, attempting instead to break the blockade on Gaza by force. When IDF soldiers boarded the ship they were violently attacked. Soldiers opened fire in response, killing nine Turkish activists.
Lieberman said Israel had no reason to apologize for the raid, something the Turkish government sees as a must if it is to restore ties with Israel.
“[The Mavi Marmara mission] was a clear provocation and it was our right to protect the lives of our soldiers. Frankly speaking, Israel has no reason to apologize,” he said.
“Even if Israel apologizes for the attack, that will change nothing,” Lieberman said. “During his speeches in Parliament, Mr. [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan has repeatedly said that an apology will not improve the relations and that [Turkey] has additional conditions. Turkey has a long [list of] other conditions, including the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, [returning] to the border lines before 1967, compensation, et cetera. But this is not the best way to settle disagreements.”
He added he had personally tried to arrange a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu without success.
“I think the picture is very bad. [But] we don’t have any disputes with Turkey – [either] territorial or historical. The opposite is true. The Jewish people have lived for hundreds of years in [Turkey] in safety, even during World War II,” he said, adding the dispute with Turkey had not started with the current Israeli government but with the former government led by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Lieberman said the row stemmed from “a strategic decision” by Erdoğan and Davutoğlu. “[Erdoğan] thinks the best way to be the leader of the Islamic world is to confront Israel. It is the same regarding the issue of the Gaza blockade,” he said.
In the past two years, Lieberman noted, Erdoğan’s speeches on Israel have gone beyond criticism to the point of insult.
“[Still] we are really trying to keep silent despite every verbal attack against Israel from Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu, and we are still trying not to create unnecessary tensions,” he said, adding that solving the deadlock could “take more years, sometimes less. Even if we have disputes, we can resolve disputes in different ways but not [in a way] like cutting diplomatic relations, or calling ambassadors back to the capitals, or provoking each other.”
Lieberman also told the Turkish reporters that Israel has offered assistance to the Syrian opposition, but the forces aiming at toppling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime rejected it.
“We offered humanitarian assistance but they rejected it. Everybody has told us that it is much better to keep the distance,” he said. “We don’t want to impose ourselves on the Syrian opposition. It is impossible to impose ourselves on somebody. We can only suggest but cannot impose.”
The conversation with the journalists took place one day before Lieberman left for Brussels for meetings with European foreign ministers.
Lieberman will ask European governments to place Hizbullah on their lists of terror organizations, in the wake of last week’s terror attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.