Israel's Lieberman won't quit on apology to Turkey

Reuters , Sunday 24 Jul 2011

The Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he would not withdraw from the coalition if it chose to apologize to Turkey

Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Reuters Photo)

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday he would not quit the coalition government if it decides to apologise to Turkey for the killing of pro-Palestinian Turks on board an activist ship last year.

Lieberman, the most powerful ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had opposed meeting Ankara's demand that Israel atone for the killing of nine Turks when Israeli troops stormed the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara.

But after Israeli officials said Netanyahu may apologise, Lieberman denied having any plan to quit in protest.

"Whether or not there is agreement in the government about this matter, this government is strong," he told reporters. "No one is looking for excuses and reasons to leave the government."

Israel's debate over apologising to Turkey has been spurred by its expectation that an imminent U.N. report on the high seas interception will largely vindicate its Gaza blockade strategy.

Turkey, which like Israel had a delegate on the U.N. inquiry panel led by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, has yet to sign the report and Netanyahu envoys have been in bilateral talks with Ankara in the hope of bridging the gaps.

Israeli officials voiced dismay after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday reiterated demands that, in addition to saying sorry, Israel also compensate Mavi Marmara survivors and end a blockade on Gaza that he insists is illegal.

"He's not exactly making it easy for us to apologise," said one Netanyahu aide.

Israel says the blockade prevents arms reaching Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamists, who are hostile to the Jewish state.

Netanyahu has so far offered only expressions of "regret" at the aid flotilla incident and proposed setting up a fund for those bereaved or injured. At the time, his advisers said a formal apology and damages payments would be tantamount to Israel admitting culpability for actions it deems self-defence.

But officials say internal legal reviews have since found that placating the Turks so that they endorse the Palmer report, even at the cost of an apology, would significantly shore up Israel against pro-Palestinian lawsuits in international courts.

"Alongside preserving the State of Israel's honour and asserting its righteousness, we have a supreme interest in protecting officers, commanders and combatants from possible prosecution aboard," Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Army Radio, when asked about the Mavi Marmara deliberations.

"We have to weigh our steps in the context of this reality."

Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel after the incident in May 2010, suspended military cooperation, and closed its airspace to Israeli military aircraft.
Israel says its marines acted in self-defence after an initial boarding party was attacked.

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