Israel and Turkey Draw Up Preliminary Outline to Restore Ties

Pro-Palestinian activists wave Turkish and Palestinian flags during the welcoming ceremony for cruise liner Mavi Marmara at the Sarayburnu port of Istanbul December 26, 2010. Turkey and Israel have frozen their diplomatic relations since the Israeli raid of the vessel in 2010 but are close to resuming ties after talks in London. Reuters/Stringer

Israel and Turkey have reached a number of "understandings" to resume diplomatic relations, pending a final signing of the agreement, and end a five-year diplomatic crisis, Israeli officials said on Friday to Newsweek.

The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2010, following the raid by Israeli naval-commandos of the MV Mavi Marmara vessel, attempting to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip—which resulted in the deaths of ten activists after a violent confrontation ensued.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Newsweek, as the deal is yet to be formally signed, says that the understandings were agreed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's national-security adviser—and incoming Mossad head—Yossi Cohen, Israeli envoy Joseph Ciechanover and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary of State, Feridun Sinirlioğlu.

The preliminary outline of the deal includes Israel's creation of a compensation fund for the raid victims' families, with Israeli media reporting that the amount will be approximately $20 million.

Additional provisions include Turkey passing a law that will annul all legal claims against Israeli officers involved in the raid, and the prohibition of senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri from entering Turkey—a figure who Israel believes directs attacks against Israeli forces in the West Bank from Istanbul. Both countries' ambassadors will return to Ankara and Tel Aviv and discussions would begin on the construction of a natural gas pipeline between Israel and Turkey.

"Yossi Cohen and Joseph Ciechanover met in Switzerland with Feridun Sinirlioğlu. They reached a number of understandings," the official says. "Israel will establish a compensation bond for the Marmara. All claims against Israel will be dropped. The ambassadors will be returned."

"The Hamas operative al-Arouri will not be permitted to enter Turkey and Turkey will not allow him to be active from its territory," the official adds. "In the near future, deliberations will commence for laying a gas line from Israel to Turkey and the selling of gas. This is all contingent upon a final signing of the agreement."

A Turkish official, also speaking to Newsweek on condition of anonymity, did not deny that the talks took place in Switzerland but says no deal had been finalized.

"We continue these talks in order to find a normal way between our countries," the official says. "These talks have been happening for some time but there is no agreement yet. So I cannot confirm any details."

The pending rapprochement between the two countries is not without its stumbling blocks. The two countries are yet to agree on the lifting of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said was a prerequisite for any normalization with Israel earlier this week.

"I already said that, once the compensation and the embargo problems were resolved, the normalization process may start," Erdogan said on his return from a trip to Turkmenistan on Sunday, in quotes carried by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and Turkish news site Daily Sabah. "The last two items have not been realized."

The Turkish leader said that warmer relations with Israel would benefit Turkey, Israel, Palestinians and the entire Middle East. "The region needs this. I don't believe the Israeli public is pleased with the current state of relations. We need to consider the interests of the people of the region and introduce peace," he added.

An apology by Netanyahu, in 2013, for the Mavi Marmara incident and behind-the-scenes diplomatic contact for the past five years has been close to bringing the two sides together again but Turkey has held firm with regards to compensation for the victims' families. Before the incident, Israel and Turkey were close regional allies with shared economic interests and a stake in containing Iran's regional ambitions.

A representative of the Turkish Embassy in London was not immediately available for comment.