An Israeli delegation arrived in Turkey on Monday for the first time since 2010 to discuss compensation for the deaths of nine Turks during a clash with Israeli commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara, a sign of improving relations between the two U.S. allies.
The visit, led by Yaakov Amidror, the prime minister's national security adviser, and the premier's special envoy Joseph Ciechanover, follows an apology from Israel last month, brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama, for the killings aboard the ship in May 2010.
According to Israeli news reports, Turkey demands that Israel pay $1 million to each family of the nine victims and Israel is willing to pay only $100,000. Israel also reportedly suggested paying the same amount paid by the Turkish army to the families of its fallen soldiers -- 125,000 Turkish lira, or around $69,400.
Turkey cut its once extensive ties with Israel after IDF soldiers killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists on the vessel which was trying to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza, a Palestinian enclave run by the Hamas terror organization.
Ankara expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military cooperation after a U.N. report into the incident, released in September 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state.
It set precise conditions for normalizing ties -- an apology, compensation, and Israel lifting its embargo on Gaza.
A rapprochement between two of Washington's main Middle Eastern allies could bolster U.S. influence in the region, help coordination to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war, and ease Israel's diplomatic isolation among its neighbors.
But for all the diplomatic flurry, a full restoration of ties still appears some way off.
Israel has made clear it did not commit to ending its Gaza blockade as part of the reconciliation, an oft-repeated Turkish demand, saying days after the apology that it could clamp down even harder on the enclave if security is threatened. Furthermore, families of the activists killed on the ship say that they will not drop their lawsuits against Israeli soldiers and security officials even if Israel and Turkey reach a deal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday to delay a visit planned for late May to Gaza.
Kerry, who has visited the region several times in recent weeks, said Erdogan's trip could endanger U.S. efforts to revive Ankara's ties with Israel and Middle East peace talks.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official meanwhile told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet that Erdogan's May trip to the blockaded Gaza Strip remains unchanged, despite Kerry's insistence that it be postponed.
The official said the U.S.'s preference that Erdogan delay his visit is "neither a new thing, nor a secret to us," saying these most recent comments by Kerry are not a "reaction to Erdogan's Gaza visit."
"For now there isn't any change in the prime minister's Gaza schedule. The issue will be discussed during Erdogan's visit [to the United States] on May 16. This is what Kerry says too. After the U.S. trip, Erdogan's Gaza trip will be realized," the official told Hurriyet.