ISTANBUL (Hurriyet Daily News)–Turkey and Israel’s window of opportunity to normalize ties created by Turkey’s delivery of firefighting planes to Israel is closing fast, according to a retired Turkish ambassador who participated in the talks in Switzerland last week.
Both countries have become prisoners to the public opinion and the more time that passes since the fire diplomacy meetings in Geneva, the more it becomes difficult for both capitals to convince their publics to accept a deal, said former Ambassador Ozdem Sanberk, who represents Turkey on the United Nations panel investigating the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead.
The fact that the two governments immediately grasped the opportunity created by the positive mood to mend fences that came as a result of Turkey’s support in fighting deadly fires in Israel, known as fire diplomacy, shows that both countries have the political will to normalize relations, Sanberk told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.
Turkish Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioglu flew to Geneva, while Israel sent its representative to the U.N. panel, Yosef Ciechanover, immediately after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to thank Turkey for sending firefighting planes to help extinguish forest fires in Israel.
“I see a good will on the part of both governments to leave the crisis behind,” said Sanberk. “The talks in Geneva were not between adversaries. It was not confrontational. We talked in full confidence on our interlocutors’ genuine wish to find a solution.”
Despite statements from political actors in Israel that offering an apology and compensation to the families of the victims, two preconditions that Turkey wants met before normalizing ties, are not on the agenda, Sanberk said Turkey negotiated nothing beyond the word “apology.”
“We are the injured part. Nine Turks are dead. No one died from the Israeli side. For the first time Turkish citizens were killed by foreign military in a time of peace. Whatever the reasons, nothing can justify the killings,” he said.
The two delegations agreed on the parameters of a solution in Geneva, yet the two governments have not yet given their consent to it, according to Sanberk. “The dialogue is still ongoing, but it is a race with time. Public support for a solution is weakening. The more time passes from the positive atmosphere created by the fire diplomacy the intensity to find a way out is decreasing. Both sides need to show the necessary leadership. Otherwise a historic opportunity will be missed and history will judge us,” he said.
As to the process that goes on within the U.N., Sanberk said it was a very positive development that Israel decided for the first time in history to cooperate with a U.N. probe. However, despite the fact that Turkey had handed out its own report upon the call from the U.N. secretary-general, who initially wanted to release an interim report Wednesday, Israel still has not given its report. “We kept our word and gave our report on Sept. 1. Israel has our report. We are now expecting Israel to give us their report,” he said, recalling that the panel has to finish its work by mid-February.
While talking about how the tension between Israel and Turkey has become a very complicated issue, Sanberk complained about the lack of interest from Arab countries. The embargo on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, which is at the root of the flotilla crisis, is not just a problem between Turkey and Israel, argued the veteran diplomat. “Turkish citizens were just part of the initiative that was organized by citizens of several countries. But the majority were from Europe,” said Sanberk, who expressed surprise that Arab countries and the Arab public opinion has not pushed harder for the momentum created by the flotilla crisis to ease the embargo on Gaza. “It should also be the duty of Arab countries to voice the plight of the Palestinians. Why is it that Arab countries are not doing anything to keep the issue alive in U.N. platforms?” he said.