Negotiators from Turkey and Israel are reportedly scheduled to meet on Thursday in Europe in a bid to strike a likely reconciliation agreement as relations between the two sides are warming.
The negotiating teams will discuss ways to narrow the remaining differences on issues such halting the operations of Palestinian resistance movement Hamas at their Istanbul headquarters as well as removing the Israeli embargo on the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) 4 avril 2016
The meeting will come after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed readiness to normalize his country’s relations with Tel Aviv after six years of strained relations.
A senior Israeli official has ruled out that Ankara will be granted a special status. However, he expressed optimism about the results of the upcoming talks.
Hurriyet Daily news reports that Erdoğan delivered warm messages to Israel during his speech at the Brookings Institute, expressing hope that the tragic suicide bomb attack that took place on March 19 in Istanbul, killing three Israelis and an Iranian, would bring the two once-close allies together again.
In the aftermath of the bomb attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated his expectations that a third round of reconciliation talks with Turkey in the upcoming weeks would eventually yield a positive outcome.
On March 24, the Turkish TV channel Kanal7 quoted Netanyahu as saying that Tel Aviv wanted to normalize relations with Ankara. He said Israel has always maintained a policy of rapprochement with Turkey.
Israel and Turkey were traditionally close allies but relations began to decline after Erdogan became prime minister in 2003.
In September 2010, Turkey suspended its military ties with Israel and expelled the Israeli envoy from Ankara over Tel Aviv’s refusal to apologize for its killing of 10 Turkish nationals aboard an aid vessel bound for Gaza.
The relationship between the two countries were severely strained following a deadly assault in 2010 on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara aid flotilla, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Since then, Turkey has repeatedly raised three conditions for normalization: an apology for the incident, compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims and the lifting of the Gaza blockade.
So far, an apology has come from Netanyahu, thanks to U.S. President Barack Obama’s mediation.
Though normalization has not yet materialized, both sides are positive about reaching an agreement soon. In fact, Erdoğan’s remarks during his Brookings speech in fact provided hints about the unresolved issues in the negotiation process.
While progress has been made on the details of the compensation, Gaza remains one of the problematic topics obstructing an agreement.
During his speech in Washington, Erdoğan addressed the poor conditions of Palestinians and reiterated Turkey’s imperative to “remove the embargo” once more. He also expressed the government’s willingness to take part in any initiative that would contribute to the welfare of the Palestinians, such as rebuilding Gaza and providing schools, hospitals, infrastructure, goods and financial support.
In fact, just two weeks ago, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) announced new plans to build 320 housing units in the Gaza Strip. The project is one of just 400 TİKA-funded projects being carried out in Palestine.
In addition to Turkey’s previously stated three conditions for normalization, the two sides have reportedly been discussing the construction of a seaport in Gaza, which the Israeli side previously denied. Israel, on the other hand, has been demanding Ankara shut Hamas’ offices in Turkey, an issue on which the Turkish officials have been dragging their feet.
It is highly unlikely that Israel will accept the construction of a seaport in Gaza, since it would mean granting Hamas political gains and jeopardizing Egypt’s friendship. It is therefore important to follow recent rapprochement efforts between Hamas and Egypt, as well as between Egypt and Turkey, and then see whether or not they will culminate in regional reconciliation among neighbors.
Meanwhile, Israel’s recent expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone from six to nine nautical miles could be interpreted as a goodwill gesture in terms of easing the blockade.