ERZURUM, Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News)–Ankara expects Israel to behave in compliance with contemporary diplomatic traditions, Turkey’s foreign minister said Thursday, urging Israel to engage in self-criticism about why its relationship with Turkey has deteriorated.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made his remarks while while speaking to a group of journalists in the eastern province of Erzurum. He was commenting on an article by his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, published in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Lieberman offered to meet Davutoğlu as part of an “honest dialogue” on how the two countries’ long-time alliance might be restored.
“We are expecting the foreign minister, who wrote the [article], to approach the issue on the basis of these principles. We expect behavior in compliance with contemporary diplomatic traditions,” Davutoğlu said, adding that he had read the article in question.
In the Jerusalem Post commentary, which ran under the headline “Israel will not be Turkey’s punching bag,” Lieberman blamed Ankara for the crisis in diplomatic relations, calling the situation in Turkey reminiscent of Iran before the Islamic revolution. He also accused Ankara of anti-Israel incitement.
“We are seeking a return to a frank and honest dialogue with Turkey, and I invite my counterpart, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, to Jerusalem, or any other location, where we can discuss issues of relevance to both nations and the wider region,” the Israeli foreign minister wrote.
“Unfortunately, the Israeli Foreign Ministry failed to pass very serious tests in the past,” said Davutoğlu, who was in Erzurum for a conference of Turkey’s ambassadors. “The world is a witness. We attach importance to our counterpart adopting a serious, principled approach.”
“Today our distance from any counterpart of mine in any part of the world is the distance of a telephone call,” he added. “I hope Israel thinks and plans to rid itself of this isolation and that the Israeli foreign minister complies with contemporary diplomatic traditions.”
Turkish-Israeli relations were seriously damaged by an Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla May 31 that left eight Turks and one U.S. citizen of Turkish descent dead onboard the Mavi Marmara. In protest, Ankara recalled its ambassador and has insisted on an apology and compensation from the Israeli government in order to normalize troubled ties.
The Turkish government’s immediate dispatching of assistance in response to a recent deadly fire in Israel prompted fence-mending talks between the two countries’ diplomats, but with no concrete results.
“Turkey’s demands [to normalize relations with Israel] are clear,” Davutoğlu said. “We expect Israel to seriously engage in self-criticism about why ties have been strained during the past two years and have reached the current stage, especially after the Mavi Marmara [incident].”
The foreign minister used Turkey’s improved relationship with Greece as an example of how Ankara responds in kind once it sees a friendly gesture from another country. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who was welcomed by the Turkish foreign minister late Thursday at the Erzurum airport, was set to address the ambassadors’ conference Friday.
A few hours before the Greek minister landed, Davutoğlu called his arrival “a historic occasion.”
“This is a historic development showing the latest stage the Turkish-Greek relations have reached,” he said. “Even Mr. Papandreou’s visit itself is a demonstrator of Turkey’s friendship and how this friendship is bolstered when it sees friendship.”
The foreign minister reiterated that if Israel wants to restore ties, Turkey’s “fair demands” should be fulfilled.
“That cannot happen with newspaper articles but with attitudes, with a principled approach and contemporary diplomatic traditions,” Davutoğlu said. “Our attitude, our demands are very clear. Mr. Lieberman should question this before communicating with me. Our demands are so clear that we would like to see a serious interlocutor in front of us.”
Davutoğlu also responded to a question posed by reporters about a problem facing hundreds of Turkish laborers currently working in Israel for a Turkish company, Yılmazlar Holding. The workers have been told to leave the country following the non-renewal of their work permits and visas.
The foreign minister said he was briefed by the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), and added that the validity of an offset agreement under which Turkish workers operate in Israel in return for Turkey’s military acquisitions expired Dec. 31.
“The [SSM] displayed an approach in conformity with technical rules. What has been done conforms with procedures, this is nothing to do with the conjecture [of Turkish-Israeli ties],” Davutoğlu said.
He warned that the issue should not be abused, saying that Turkey’s national honor was above any small calculations.
Some 800 workers owe their current jobs to Israel’s winning a $860 million tender to modernize 170 M60 battle tanks for Turkey in 2002. The agreement at the time said Israel should get at least $180 million worth of supplies from Turkey. However, Israel was not able to do so and in 2003, Yılmazlar Holding came into the picture when the use of a Turkish workforce in Israel was proposed as compensation.
As part of this “offset agreement,” 800 Turkish workers received special permits to work in Israel. Yılmazlar officials said they asked Turkey to assist in having the permits extended, but did not receive any reply from the SSM.