Middle East

U.S. Tries To Restore Ties Between Turkey And Israel

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Turkish and Israeli delegations are discussing compensation for families of the nine activists killed aboard the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded the ship off the Gaza coast in 2010. The talks are part of an effort by Washington, D.C., to restore normal ties between two of its allies, but the process faces a number of pitfalls. Several families of the aid ship victims say they don't want compensation until Israeli restrictions on Gaza are lifted, something Israel has not offered and is unlikely to do while Hamas remains in charge of Gaza.


Turkey and Israel are negotiating compensation for the families of nine activists. They were killed in 2010 when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish aid ship off the Gaza coast. The talks are part of an effort to restore normal ties between the countries after a three-year chill. But some families of the aid ship victims say they won't accept compensation until Israel lifts restrictions on Gaza. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Israel says its commandos fired in self-defense when they were violently attacked by activists armed with pipes and other weapons on board the aid ship Mavi Marmara. Turkey called it an act of piracy and homicide, and expelled top Israeli diplomats. Relations have been frosty ever since. Now, with the intervention of President Barack Obama, Israel has apologized for the incident and is discussing a compensation package for the victims' families.

But Gulden Somaz, an attorney with IHH, the Islamic charity that ran the Mavi Marmara, says the families will never drop their lawsuits against Israel until other more sweeping demands are met.

GULDEN SOMAZ: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: The families want the blockade of Gaza lifted. That was the whole point of the Mavi Marmara voyage, she says. She believes the Israelis are trying to keep those responsible for the deaths from facing justice. To accept compensation under these circumstances, she argues, would be irresponsible and immoral. Despite these objections, Turkish officials are pressing ahead with the compensation talks as Washington keeps up the pressure for normalized ties. On his latest visit to Istanbul, Secretary of State John Kerry said the rapprochement would strengthen U.S. foreign policy efforts on a number of fronts: Iran's nuclear program, counterterrorism and the dangerously destabilizing crisis in Turkey and Israel's mutual neighbor, Syria.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: And because of some of the people, the extremists, who have come into Syria, they could threaten Israel. They could threaten Turkey. They could threaten, simply, the integrity of the state of Syria. There are huge reasons why it is beneficial for this rapprochement to be completed because it meets all of our strategic needs and interests.

KENYON: While Washington may want its key regional friends to be friends as well, analysts say that may be wishful thinking. Hugh Pope, Turkey director of the International Crisis Group, says Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still largely motivated by Muslim public opinion in Turkey, which remains outraged by the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. For its part, Israel might like its pilots to have access to Turkish airspace for training runs, as they did in the 1990s, and Israel might also appreciate Turkish cooperation should it decide on a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. But Pope says the days of close Turkish-Israeli military cooperation aren't likely to return anytime soon.

HUGH POPE: In terms of Iran, obviously, if it was really a buddy of Turkey's and was able to go and bomb Iran through Turkey, that would be a huge advantage. That's just never going to happen. And as for the diplomatic reinstallation of things, I cannot imagine it happening until there's some real good news on the Israel-Palestinian side.

KENYON: From Israel's perspective, analysts say if years of pressure from its most powerful ally, the U.S., hasn't yielded major concessions to the Palestinians, it's highly unlikely that pressure from Turkey would be any more effective. Still, both countries say the rapprochement process is continuing, and Washington still holds out hope that restored Turkish-Israeli ties could have a positive effect on the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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