Dina Kraft
The New York Times
July 1, 2010 - 12:00am

The Turkish foreign minister and an Israeli cabinet member met secretly in Europe on Wednesday to try to defuse the crisis that erupted after Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish aid boat bound for Gaza.

According to Israeli news reports, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of Israel met in Zurich.

Turkey, which had been Israel’s most important Muslim ally, curtailed diplomatic relations with Israel in May, after the sea raid in which nine Turks were killed. Turkey has demanded a formal apology and compensation for the families of the dead.

Israel has refused, saying its troops acted in self-defense after being attacked by a group of passengers on the ship, which was part of a flotilla trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel confirmed that the meeting took place after it was reported by an Israeli television station.

While it was unclear whether Israel and Turkey made any progress in resolving their differences, the meeting created a potentially damaging rift within the Israeli government.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he had not been informed of the meeting, and he lashed out at Mr. Netanyahu.

“This is an insult to the norms of accepted behavior and a heavy blow to the confidence between the foreign minister and the prime minister,” Mr. Lieberman said in a statement.

Mr. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party is the country’s third largest and a critical member of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition.

But Mr. Lieberman’s hard-line approach to Palestinians and Israel’s Arab citizens has made him unpopular abroad. Often other cabinet members, specifically Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have been sent in his place to diplomatic meetings, especially in Western countries.

Mr. Netanyahu’s statement blamed technical reasons for the failure to notify Mr. Lieberman.

Israel’s historically strong relations with Turkey had begun to fray before the sea raid. Turkey’s growing ties with Iran and Syria in recent years had prompted concern in Israel.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which began in December 2008, drew protests from Turkey.

But after the May 31 attack on the aid flotilla, Turkey recalled its ambassador and canceled planned military exercises, and has called for Israel to apologize. Turkey has also called for an independent commission to investigate the raid.

Israel has agreed only to an internal investigation that would include two foreign observers.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017