Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Turkey and Israel are looking for ways to normalize political relations, saying, “We want to restore relations with Turkey.”
Netanyahu spoke to a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem and his comments were reported by the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman.
“In a region where instability reigns, Israel and Turkey are two quite stable countries. I believe in [our] common interest,” Netanyahu told the journalists, adding that Turks and Jews have a long history.
The newspaper noted that the conversation between Netanyahu and the Turkish journalists was the first time since the May 2010 incident on the Mavi Marmara, which occurred when the ship tried to break the blockade on Gaza and refused to turn aside when ordered to. When IDF soldiers boarded the ship they were violently attacked. Soldiers opened fire in response, killing nine Turkish activists.
The incident caused Israel’s relationship with Turkey, already strained, to break down completely. Turkish leaders demanded an apology, but Israeli leaders refused, saying Israel had acted in self-defense.
Today’s Zaman noted that Netanyahu received the Turkish journalists in the same room where Israel’s National Security Cabinet meets. In the back, behind Netanyahu both Israeli and Turkish flags stood.
A high-level Israeli official told the Turkish daily that the two countries have been trying to find a magical formula to mend the bilateral ties, but as of yet the efforts remain fruitless.
“The formula needs to not only appeal to both countries but it should also not harm the dignity of either country,” the official remarked, adding that the Mavi Marmara incident also led to trauma in Israel but saying he is of the opinion that it is important for the two countries to get over the trauma at this point. “Have a look at the developments in the region and you will see Israel and Turkey have common interests,” he noted.
Answering a question about when Turkey and Israel would restart negotiations, the official said, “Negotiations with Turkey have never been cut off. We still have open channels.” The official also implied that the two countries continue to share intelligence through the U.S.
Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also met Turkish journalists, telling them Israel is ready to solve any outstanding disputes with Turkey, but it will not apologize to Ankara for the raid on the Mavi Marmara.
“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 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 added.
“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.”