Israel and Turkey are likely to normalise relations soon after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returns from his trip to Japan on Friday, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.
“We are waiting for the prime minister to return and finalise the deal,” a senior diplomatic official said, confirming the steady stream of stories from Turkey over the last few months saying that a deal was imminent.
Turkey and Israel had a cooperative relationship for many years until the election of Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Turkish Prime Minister. The two countries previously had strong trade, tourism and military ties.
But Erdogan’s caustic anti-Israeli rhetoric coincided with a shift of Turkish interests in the Middle East and a realignment from a secular Israeli-oriented stance to a decidedly Islamist pro-Arab orientation.
Relations hit a low point in 2010 after Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and – after facing heavy resistance and coming under violent attack on board the ship – killed nine Turks. Turkey has been particularly antagonistic towards Israel since then.
In 2013, Turkey was implicated in exposing Israeli special agents operating in Iran.
But in recent months, as Erdogan’s domestic troubles have mounted–including a bribery scandal that has rocked his government–he has softened his hardline anti-Israel posture.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week that talks between the two countries had reached “a certain level” and that “problems have been substantially overcome.”
“Our colleagues are continuing the talks. I’d like to underline that we have seen positive developments,” he said in a press conference.
According to a story last week in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, Davutoglu again stressed Turkey’s previous preconditions for normalization of relations, including an apology for the incident, compensation payments to the families of the victims and “lifting restrictions on the whole of Palestine, including Gaza.”
“The apology has been received, and the compensation talks have reached a certain level,” he said.
The senior Israeli diplomatic official could not say which particular issue has been holding up final agreement.
Israel has made clear it did not intend to lift the blockade of Gaza to reestablish normal ties with Turkey, but the sides have been discussing allowing Turkish aid to enter Gaza.
Netanyahu apologized Erdogan over a year ago for “operational errors” aboard the ship that may have led to a loss of life.
According to unconfirmed reports, the two sides have agreed that Israel would pay some $21 million to the families of the victims. Turkey, as part of the deal, is to pass legislation ending current or future legal proceedings against Israel Defense Forces commanders and officers involved in the raid.
Once the deal is signed, the countries are expected to immediately exchange ambassadors.