After a long stalemate, Israel is mulling a concession to Turkey in a bid to mend fences with its former regional ally.
Israel is considering an apology to Turkey over the killing of nine Turkish activists aboard an aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip a year ago.
At the time, Israeli commandos stormed onto a Turkish ship as it tried to break Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza, prompting international outrage. The incident severely strained relations between Israel and Turkey which used to be strategic allies.
Israel says it acted in self-defense, and until now it has rejected Turkish demands for an apology as a condition for repairing ties.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak says he does not like the idea of an apology, but in a statement, he said it is the right decision.
“What is really at stake here is the nature of our relationship with Turkey," said
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "This is an extremely important and strategic relationship for both countries and I think both countries understand the interest in preserving it, in warming up again the ties.”
So far, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not signed on to the apology, but a statement of this kind from the defense minister is significant.
But even if it comes, it is not clear whether it would satisfy Turkey. In addition to the apology, Turkey is demanding compensation for the families of the victims and an end to Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Israel says the blockade cannot be lifted because it prevents weapons from reaching the Palestinian militant group Hamas that rules Gaza. Nevertheless, Palmor believes a deal can be reached.
“I think that the Turks are showing clear signs that they want to turn the page, too," he said. "Of course we need to find the way to do that, but I think there is good will on both sides, or at least intentions on the Turkish side to find a way to turn the page.”
Defense Minister Barak said reconciliation with Turkey would prevent international lawsuits against Israeli officers and soldiers and cause less criticism of Israel abroad. It could also benefit the Middle East peace process. Before the flotilla affair, the Islamist government in Turkey expressed interest in serving as a bridge between the Jewish state and the Arab world.