Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday announced that Ankara will refuse to normalize relations with Israel until Jerusalem lifts its blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, raising fears that the Turkish leader was backsliding on commitments made to President Barack Obama in the context of a U.S-backed effort to achieve rapprochement between Turkey and Israel.
Speaking at a press conference in Ankara alongside Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Erdogan said that negotiations with Israel have progressed, but have not ended. He added that Turkey has received an apology from Israel, and that talks over compensation for the families of those killed and wounded on the Mavi Marmara ship in 2010 are ongoing. However, Erdogan said the lifting of the siege over the Gaza Strip – which was one of the conditions set by Turkey for normalizing relations – has not yet transpired. “Nothing will happen without lifting the siege on Gaza,” he said.
Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government froze bilateral relations with the Jewish state after a U.N. investigation – conducted in the aftermath of Israel’s 2010 interception of a Turkish vessel that was trying to break the blockade – determined that the Israeli naval embargo was legal. Israeli commandos had interdicted the Mavi Marmara and were attacked by its passengers – nine of whom were killed in the ensuring fighting – and Turkey had sought a finding that Israel acted illegally. Ankara broke off ties with Israel after the investigation rejected that assertion, issuing terms to Israel that demanded the Gaza blockade be lifted in exchange for rapprochement. Last March Erdogan was maneuvered by Obama into accepting reconciliation on terms that had long been offered by Israel, which among other things did not include lifting the blockade. The diplomatic concession came amid a precipitous slide in Turkey’s foreign policy prestige, but the terms of the deal generated what Turkey expert Michael Koplow described as “hardline domestic criticism.” Erdogan subsequently made a series of moves that observers described as efforts to compensate for the perception of having been diplomatically out-maneuvered. Israeli journalist Arad Nir noted that Erdogan yesterday was “pouring cold water on reconciliation” just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was gearing up to publicly and privately “market” other concessions that Jerusalem was preparing to make to reestablish ties.
[Photo: yasin kocak / YouTube]