What apology? Turkey blocks Israel détente

Erdogan: refuses to open Israel embassy  (Photo: AP)

Erdogan: refuses to open Israel embassy (Photo: AP)

Israel’s apology to Turkey in relation to the deaths of nine of its citizens in the Gaza flotilla incident was supposed to have paved the way to a rapprochement between the two former allies, but the Turkish government now appears to be dragging its feet.

A number of statements and developments over the past two weeks indicate that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not interested — for now — in repairing relations.

This week, Mr Erdogan told journalists that the Israeli embassy in Ankara would not reopen because, he claimed, Israel had broken its promises on easing the closure on Gaza.

This came in the wake of a previous announcement that Mr Erdogan would be visiting the Gaza Strip next month.
In addition, negotiations between Israel and Turkey on compensation for the families of the Turkish activists killed when fighting the Israeli commandos taking over the Mavi Marmara ferry have yet to begin.

Turkish officials warned Israel in the Hurriyet newspaper against “dirty bargaining” over the level of compensation. In addition, Turkey still refuses to convene Nato’s Mediterranean Dialogue group, which includes Israel and has not met for five years.

Mr Erdogan is to meet US President Barack Obama next month in what is seen in Washington as an important stage in shoring up Turkey’s support for Nato and Western interests.

Despite the presidential meeting, Mr Erdogan has refused American requests to postpone his visit to Gaza indefinitely. The Turkish Prime Minister announced over the weekend that he would be visiting Gaza in late May, ostensibly to inspect whether or not Israel is keeping its commitment to reduce the closure of the Strip.
While some Israeli and American officials expressed the hope that he would also visit Israel to accelerate the thaw in relations, the prospects for such a visit for now seem unlikely.

The Erdogan government is working to boost Hamas’s diplomatic profile and is also being used as a quiet back-channel between the American administration and the Islamic movement in Gaza. In his recent visit to Istanbul, Secretary of State John Kerry asked the Turks to pressure Hamas into recognising Israel. Meanwhile, Ankara is also making sure that its relations with the rival, Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah remain strong.

This week, Turkey’s consul-general in East Jerusalem presented his credentials to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, making Turkey the first country to have an official ambassador to Palestine. No other country has taken this step since the decision of the United Nations to upgrade Palestine’s status last year. In doing so, Mr Erdogan is making sure that an ambassador to the Palestinians is installed well before Israel gets a Turkish envoy.

Last updated: 3:45pm, April 18 2013