‘Turkey and Israel should settle issues around table’

An Israeli politician and former foreign minister has called on Turkish and Israeli leaders to sit down around a table in order to settle the issues between their countries, as their alliance has almost collapsed. Israeli main opposition Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni said in an interview with the Cihan news agency on Wednesday that there is a need for Turkey and Israel to find some common ground and come back together.

Tzipi Livni

Tzipi Livni

“What they need to do is give up the megaphone diplomacy where both sides shout at each other. Instead, they should calm down and go into a room to have an honest talk,” she said. Commenting on the Mavi Marmara aid ship that was attacked by Israel on May 31, 2010, Livni said that “they feel quite sorry about the loss of life” but “had to stop” the ship that was headed to Gaza.

The United Nations established an inquiry panel to examine the incident, and the UN panel’s long-awaited Palmer report was handed over to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sept. 2. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the report legitimized the Gaza blockade and opened the door to occupation, adding that Turkey would not accept it. Turkey demanded that Israel issue a formal apology, pay compensation to the families of the victims and end its blockade on Gaza.

The report said Israel’s interception of the vessel was “excessive and unreasonable,” while the flotilla acted “recklessly” in attempting to breach the naval blockade. It also said the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza was imposed as a “legitimate security measure” to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea.

After the release of the report, Turkey announced a series of decisions concerning Turkish-Israeli relations. The measures included downgrading Turkish-Israeli diplomatic ties to the level of second secretary, suspension of military agreements, measures pertaining to freedom of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean and demanding a review of the Israeli blockade on Gaza by the International Court of Justice.

According to Livni, Turkey and Israel are “two democracies in the region” and need to find a way to eliminate their disagreements.

“When I was foreign minister, we used to work together,” she said. “The Turkish government contributed much to peace talks between Israel and Syria. I know that Turkey is concerned about the situation in Palestine. I believe that peace between Israel and Palestine would be beneficial to Israel’s interests, too. That’s what the Turkish government supports. Therefore, we have to find a way to overcome our differences,” she added.

Livni, who served as foreign minister from 2005 until the 2009 elections, said she had met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül and previously talked with Erdoğan. She also said that Israel and Turkey also had their differences before, especially regarding the role of Hamas.

“Despite that, we were able to work together. When I was listening to the Turkish views on the situation in the region, I was trying to convince them that Israel wants peace with Palestinians, that it is possible to have a legitimate Palestinian government with the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and that we need to illegitimatize Hamas to do that, and I was successful sometimes,” she said and added that it was clear that Turkey and Israel were part of the “same camp” in those days.

“This was the camp of those who wanted peace between Israelis and Palestinians and also with Syrians. Hamas was isolated because its ideology was based on a religious ideology that did not want to accept us here, but we worked together and eliminated our differences. We did that in the past,” she said.

When asked about her opinion regarding Erdoğan’s emphasis on the fact that the “issue is not about the Israeli people but the Israeli government,” Livni said that “Turkey no longer sees Israel as a friendly country or believes that the two countries have mutual interests. This is obvious, and not about one statement. This is the overall situation.”

However, Livni also said Turkey and Israel can shape the Arab Spring together. “It is obvious that Iran poses a threat to the world and the region from our point of view. They show their extreme ideology not only by threatening Israel but other countries in the region as well. In this case, the role of Turkey as a stable country is important. That’s why I think that Israel and Turkey should sit around a table and review the situation in order to avoid seeing more terrorism and extremism in the region, and see how they can influence those trends. Right now this is not the situation and we cannot influence the way events unfold,” she stated.



05 October 2011, Wednesday / İBRAHİM VARLIK, TEL AVIV