Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has proposed paying compensation to relatives of Turkish citizens killed during a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in exchange for Turkey’s help in protecting the Israeli navy against lawsuits, officials said.
The draft, offered over the weekend in Geneva, Switzerland, some $100,000 to each family of the nine pro-Palestinian activists who were shot dead trying to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade in May. They were shot by Israeli marines who boarded the aid-carrying flotilla the Mavi Marmara.
It also offered an Israeli expression of "regret" over the incident and included measures for mending ties, according to Israeli diplomatic sources, but stopped short of Turkey’s demand Israel formally "apologise" for the deaths.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, described the reports of an Israeli offer as "speculative" and said on Thursday his government’s demands had not changed.
"We don’t think it is right to cite figures, or discussions of apology or regret," Davutoglu said.
"The citing of figures or the matter of regret did not come onto the agenda."
Turkey has thus far refused to resume full diplomatic relations with Israel until it receives an apology for the raid, which remains the subject of investigation by the United Nations and Israel.
"There is a debate on the wording, on the word ‘apology’," Ozdem Sanberk, who took part in bilateral fence-mending talks in Geneva on Sunday and Monday, told the AFP news agency.
"As far as it concerns the Turkish side, it has never negotiated a word other than the word ‘apology’," he said.
According to the Israeli press, some Israeli officials are opposed to extending an "apology" for the deaths in the May 31 raid of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, saying Israel should only express "regret" at the bloodshed.
"We made a compensation offer, and asked the Turks to do what needs to be done to address our legal concerns. We also want to see them return their ambassador and allow us to appoint a new ambassador in Ankara," an Israeli official said on Thursday.
"For now, however, there are still big obstacles."
At the meetings in Geneva, the two sides drew up a draft deal to end the deep crisis between the one-time allies, which was presented to the leaders of the two countries, Sanberk said.
"No new meeting has been scheduled. We are waiting for the decision" of the leaders, he added.
The Geneva talks followed Turkey’s decision to send two fire-fighting planes to help Israel battle a deadly forest fire that raged out of control last week, in a gesture that raised hope for bilateral ties.
Netanyahu had pledged to "find ways to express our appreciation" to the Turks.
However, Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, on Tuesday signalled no flexibility in Turkey’s terms.
"If there are those who want to start a new period, I repeat: They must accept their guilt, apologise and pay compensation. I say too that the embargoes, which have been eased but not enough, should be lifted," he told AK legislators.
In response to the flotilla raid, Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancelled joint military exercises. It also twice denied permission to Israeli military aircraft to use its air space.
Relations had been already strained over Israel’s devastating war on Gaza last year, amid Erdogan’s frequent criticisms of Israel and his defence of Palestinian group Hamas.
Turkey and Israel had enjoyed a decade of close ties since 1996 when they signed a military co-operation agreement.
(Agencies via Arab News)