Israel and Turkey have announced a reconciliation deal to end a six-year diplomatic standoff that started when Israeli naval commandos shot dead nine Turkish activists travelling on an aid flotilla making for the Gaza coast.
A deal negotiated in Rome on Sunday will restore full ambassador-level relations, provide for about $20m in compensation for the families of those killed and wounded aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010, and clear the way for potentially lucrative contracts for Israel to transmit natural gas to Turkey.
After agreeing to halt all proceedings in domestic and international courts against Israeli forces, Turkey is expected to be allowed to ship aid for Gaza through the Israeli port of Ashdod and to build a power station, hospital and desalination plan in the blockaded Strip.
The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, announcing the deal in Ankara, said a first shipment of 10,000 tonnes of aid would be sent next Friday but it was too early to talk about gas deals with Israel. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said in a simultaneous announcement in Rome that the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza would continue.
A senior Turkish official outlined the details of the deal on Sunday:
- Israel agreed to provide compensation to the families of Mavi Marmara victims and to allow Turkey to interfere in the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
- Turkey will deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military products to Gaza and make infrastructure investments in the area. Along with new residential buildings, we will complete the construction of a 200-bed hospital in Gaza.
- Concrete steps will be taken to address the energy and water crisis in Gaza. The amount of electricity and drinking water to Gaza residents will increase and new power plants will be constructed.
- The Turkey-Israel agreement will make it possible for Turkey to launch major projects in the West Bank including the Jenin industrial zone.
The official said there were no references to Hamas in the agreement and Turkey would “continue supporting the Palestinian state and the people of Palestine”.
The agreement represented a “diplomatic victory” for Turkey and had the support of the Palestinian government and Hamas, he said.
Assuming such a package is ratified by Israel’s security cabinet later in the week, it will mark a return to what has been the longest standing, if often chequered, relationship between Israel and a Muslim country. In 1949 Turkey was the first Muslim nation to recognise the new state of Israel. Plans are afoot for the details of the package to be announced jointly by Netanyahu in Rome and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Ankara.
Most of the recent negotiations have been over Hamas-controlled Gaza. Turkey shelved its earlier demand for an ending of the blockade, settling instead for a humanitarian aid package that will be delivered through Ashdod under Israeli supervision. And while Hamas will be allowed to retain an outpost in the country, Ankara has reportedly given assurances that the Islamic faction’s Turkish base will not be used for armed operations against Israel.
The planned deal sparked sharp protests from the families of two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed during the 2014 war in Gaza. The families wanted any deal to provide for the return by Hamas of the soldiers’ bodies.
The family of Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian-born Israeli who appears to have gone into northern Gaza from a nearby beach through a gap in the border fence in September 2014, and who Israel believes is being held alive by Hamas, have made similar protests and demonstrated yesterday outside the prime minister’s office. A second Israeli, a Bedouin from the Negev village of Hura who has not been officially named, is also thought to be still in Gaza.
Mengistu’s brother Ilan told the Jerusalem Post that “we are in favour of humanitarian aid for Gaza, but only if it’s for everyone – only if Avera also receives the humanitarian aid he has been denied”. As it stood, the agreement was a “capitulation to Hamas” because there was “no justification” for the faction to hold an innocent man against his will.
Before leaving for Rome, Netanyahu told his weekly cabinet meeting that there had been “disinformation and misinformation” about the Turkish agreement and added: “We are continuing our constant efforts, both open and in secret, to bring Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin back to Israel, may their memories be blessed, and also the two Israelis being held in Gaza. We are in continuous contact with the families and we will neither rest nor be silent until we bring the boys back home.”
Israeli officials have suggested that Erdoğan has given assurances that he will use his influence with Hamas to try to secure the release of the Israelis and the remains of the two dead soldiers.