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491 words - March 25, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
The most important outcome of US President Barack Obama's state visit to Israel, the first since he was elected in 2009, might have not been his commitment to the "unbreakable alliance" between the United States and its Middle Eastern ally, but rather the "restoration of relations" between the latter and Turkey.
After years of increasing tensions between the two countries, mostly over the humanitarian issues regarding the Palestinian territories and refugees, the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu declared he "appreciated" his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "words" in a recent interview in a Danish newspaper. Mr. Erdogan told Politieken that his recent comments calling "Zionism" a "crime against humanity" were "misinterpreted." In fact, he said he explained that his harsh criticism over the last year solely targeted the Israeli policy, not Israel or the Israeli people. In a statement last month at a United Nations forum on tolerance in Vienna, the Turkish Prime Minister said that "just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become impossible not to see Islamophobia as a crime against humanity,"
After telling President Obama about his regret that the Israel-Turkey relations have continuously declined for a decade, Mr. Netanyahu "expressed Israel's apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury, the tragic outcome of the Mavi Marmara (MV) incident." He also agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/non-liability. In 2010, the MV, a ship owned by an Islamic Turkish NGO, attempted to break through the Israeli blockade over Gaza. In January 2011, the Israeli government-appointed Turkel Commission found the blockade and the use of force by Israeli forces was legal although it occasioned 9 casualties among the pro-Palestinian activists. Now, "both Israel and Turkey want to put an end to this misunderstanding and return to good relations," said Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The apologies by Israel have been largely welcomed around the world, however Turkish sources have told DiploNews this was a first step in a "gradual" restoration of ties. "Israel must pay a financial compensation to the victims of the incident," and "efforts must be made on the conditions of the Palestinian people," the sources said, summing up what remains to be done for the bilateral ties to enjoy their full potential anew. Also, DiploNews analysts noted, Mr. Erdogan might downplay the importance of Israel's apologies in order not to disappoint his pro-Palestinian and conservative support base at home. "Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation (of the steps). But if there is no implementation, then I am sorry," Mr. Erdogan specified in an address on March 24.
To conclude, the Israeli move likely resulted from President Obama's "strong" advice and from growing concern that the situation in Syria could spin out of control, with a higher risk of chronic instability and unknown consequences across the Middle East.
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