Hamas welcomed Israel’s apology, but some political experts say the primary reason behind the rapprochement has more to do with developments in Syria
YOUSEF ALHELOU, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA: Palestinian officials in Gaza hailed what they said the major achievement for Turkey, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish prime minister on March 22 for the deadly Israeli naval commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31, 2010, that killed nine Turkish pro-Palestine activists.
The head of the Hamas-affiliated Popular Committee Against the Siege told The Real News that he welcomes Israel’s apology in the hope that Turkey would continue with its pressure to further ease the blockade.
JAMAL AL-KHODARY, CHAIRMAN OF POPULAR COMMITTEE AGAINST THE SIEGE (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): This apology is a response to Turkey’s conditions which it had set after Israel’s brutal attack on the Mavi Marmara, and it shows that Turkey is a powerful regional country and knows how to reach to its goal with determination and through all diplomatic methods despite many Israeli attempts to ignore the Turkish conditions. When Israel committed its crime, it had refused to apologize or pay compensations. Today what happened is a big achievement for Turkish diplomacy. It was able to impose its conditions. But let’s wait and see what will happen to the second and third conditions, which are the compensation for the families of the victims and lifting the blockade on Gaza.
ALHELOU: After Erdogan accepted the apology, Israel did not commit itself to ending its Gaza blockade as part of the reconciliation with Turkey.
During the telephone conversation between the two leaders which was made in the final minutes of last week’s visit to the region by U.S. President Barack Obama, Netanyahu said that Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza and this would continue as long as “calm prevailed.”
MUKAHIMER ABU SEDA, POLITICAL ANALYST: I don’t think that Israel is going to lift the siege on Gaza completely. What PM Netanyahu said: that Israel will continue to supply Gaza with its needs as long as the ceasefire and the quietness continues from the Gaza side, which would mean that Israel is not going to take more decisive measures to lift the siege from the sea and the air. But that would also mean that Turkey will have to continue to monitor the situation and to intervene to put pressure on Israel to lift its siege and facilitate the movement of goods and supplies into Gaza.
ALHELOU: In May 2010, Israeli troops killed nine Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara in international waters. The ship was part of the Freedom Flotilla, on its way to the Gaza Strip carrying goods prohibited by the siege on Gaza such as construction materials. The activists attempted to enter the Gaza Strip and bring the goods in an attempt to break the siege on Gaza and show their solidarity with the besieged Gazans.
Following the flotilla incident, Israel eased its blockade by allowing more consumer goods, but still keeps its restrictions on some construction materials, and most exports remain in effect.
Since the flotilla incident about three years ago, Turkey has supported Gaza by implementing many projects, like this hospital located in the central Gaza strip. Now Turkey conditions normalization on Israel ending its Gaza blockade.
During Obama’s visit to Israel, Israeli military officials have taken to punishing Gaza residents. In response to a recent rocket fire from Gaza, all movement through a civilian crossing between Gaza and Israel was cancelled except for humanitarian cases. Gaza fishermen had their permitted fishing territory restricted and a commercial goods crossing was shut down.
Many observers say that the main motivating factor in restoring ties with Turkey which made this reconciliation possible was the common interest for the U.S., Israel, and Turkey over the Syrian crisis.
MUKAHIMER ABU SEDA, POLITICAL ANALYST: It seems to me that the Syrian crisis and the possibility of the breakdown of the Assad regime in Syria was a major reason for the U.S. intervention to push Israel to apologize to Turkey and restore normal relations between Turkey and Israel. And in addition to that, Israel after three years of the Turkish-Israeli crisis learned the hard lesson that without Turkey, they were not able to find a substitute to conduct military training in Europe or in the region other than Turkey. And as a result of that, the Israelis that it served their best interests to normalize relations with Turkey and apologize for the attack on the Marmara flotilla.
ASAD ABU SHAREKH, AL-AZHAR UNIVERSITY: I think there is a very big deal which was mediated by the United States of America, by Obama himself, because Israel is in total isolation and the only strategic ally to Israel in this part of the world in the Middle East was Turkey. So if the relations are damaged and sabotaged with Turkey, Israel will be left with no friends in this part of the world. And because now the Middle East is in a state of turbulence and havoc totally, I think the United States of America is trying to rethink her policy in this part, so the United States of America put a lot of pressure on Israel to apologize to Turkey in order to prepare for next steps. Probably they are thinking of hitting Iran, hitting Hezbollah, doing something, thinking of probably aggression here or there, and this is why they cannot move forwards if Israel is in total isolation.
ALHELOU: Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize Israel and signed many economic and military agreements. And now, after three years of damaged diplomatic ties, it seems geographical proximity and historical closeness between the two sides will help to improve the damaged relationship.
Yousef Alhelou, reporting for The Real News, Gaza.
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