Israel offers compensation, refuses apology in secret talks with Turkey

Israeli officials have been in talks with Turkish representatives in a bid to restore bilateral relations, Israeli news report have said, revealing that the Israeli side has offered compensation for the families of Turks killed by Israeli commandos on an aid ship last year but still refuses to apologize to Ankara for the May 31, 2010 incident.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon has been appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as an envoy for reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, quoting an unnamed Israeli official, reported on its website on Thursday. Ya’alon has been meeting with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, while there are also other talks taking place between the Israeli representative on the UN inquiry committee on last year’s Gaza flotilla, Yosef Ciechanover, and Turkey’s representative on the UN inquiry committee, Özdem Sanberk. The two have been passing messages between Israel and Turkey and have taken pains to create solutions to end the crisis.

In these talks, Israel is maintaining its position of refusing to apologize to Turkey for the deadly raid on May 31, 2010, but is ready to express regret over the incident, Haaretz said, citing the unnamed official.

A separate report, broadcast by Israeli Channel 2 television Thursday, said Ya’alon was dispatched to Geneva in recent days for talks with Turkish diplomats, where he said Israel is willing to pay compensation to the families of those killed on the ship, the Mavi Marmara, but would not apologize for the 2010 incident. However, Ya’alon did say Israel was ready to express “regret.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has not confirmed secret talks with Israel so far, but it has not denied recent reports to that effect either.

Haaretz said there have also been talks between the US administration and senior Turkish officials. It said the US mainly wanted to foil a new flotilla to Gaza, which is due to depart for the blockaded coastal strip later this month, but also sought to improve Turkish-Israeli relations.

Israel and Turkey had previously attempted to discuss ways to restore ties, when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had held secret talks in Belgium with Israeli Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer in the summer of 2010. The talks failed to produce any result but created a crisis within the Israeli government after it emerged that Israel’s hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had no prior knowledge of the talks.

On Dec. 5, 2010, Sinirlioğlu met with Ciechanover in Geneva. These talks also produced no breakthrough. Reports said they were deadlocked on the disputed wording of an Israeli apology, with Israel refusing to use the word “apology” and offering to express “regret” instead. Reports also said Israel has demanded guarantees that its military will not face legal action over the May 31 raid.