Turkish-Israeli thaw’s second phase: Gaza trip

Turkish-Israeli thaw’s second phase: Gaza trip

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish-Israeli thaw’s second phase: Gaza trip

Israeli PM Netanyahu (R) speaks with US Secretary of State Kerry during the ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem. Kerry’s visit to Turkey has been clouded by PM’s plans for trip to Gaza. AP photo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s planned visit to Gaza would be in concert with growing Turkish-Israeli rapprochement as it would complement the Mideast peace process and facilitate détente between rival Palestinian groups, Turkish officials have said.

Officials discussed the matter April 7 with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. sources underlined the importance of the “timing” of Erdoğan’s visit so that it would be helpful and constructive in facilitating the peace process.

In an apparent response to the U.S. emphasis on the timing of the visit, Turkish sources said the timing also mattered for Turkey since it would like to see concrete successes on the ground, such as a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and an easing of the embargo on Gaza, before the visit is conducted.

“Making concrete progress for the reconciliation of the Palestinian groups also at the time of the visit would crown such a visit and make it much more meaningful,” a senior Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Hürriyet Daily News, while underlining that they hoped that the visit would not be delayed.

In the second step of the normalization process between Turkey and Israel, an Israeli delegation will visit Turkey on April 11-12 for talks on compensation for the victims of the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla raid, but the meetings could also include the issue of easing the Israeli embargo on Gaza, the same diplomat said, adding that Ankara wanted to accelerate the process of normalization.

Israel has already allowed Turkey to transport 60 containers of construction materials to the Gaza Strip in order to build a Turkish-funded hospital in the coastal territory, he said, adding that another 60 containers were on the way. Israel is also facilitating visas for officials traveling to construct the hospital, all of which are good signs for easing the embargo, he added.

Turkey ready to facilitate process pending Israeli action

Ankara is ready to lend support that has been requested by Washington to facilitate a new Middle East peace process by delivering required messages to Palestinian groups, but it needs its hands to be freer for doing so via clear signs from the Israeli side, Turkish officials told the U.S. secretary of state during his visit to Turkey.

The clear sign which would enable Turkey to fully play an effective role for the new peace process would be Israel’s indication “of a meaningful peace process targeting a two-state solution with the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders,” a Turkish source said.

The U.S. expectation from Turkey is to publicly back the U.S.-brokered efforts for the new Israeli-Palestinian peace process so that the initiative will gain credibility in the region, particularly in the Arab world.

Second, Washington is demanding that Ankara use its leverage on Palestinian groups, especially Hamas, in order to convince the group to sign up to the peace process.

“Israel must display an open perspective and give signs and messages” on the parameters of a new round of negotiations that will strengthen the hands of parties that are ready for talks, according to the Turkish source.

Kerry, U.S. President Barack Obama’s new point man on the Middle East, is leading a renewed U.S. effort to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations which have been frozen since September 2010.

After meeting with Turkish leaders on April 7 in Istanbul, the first stop on a 10-day overseas trip, Kerry headed directly to the Ramallah headquarters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Following talks with Abbas, the U.S. secretary of state arrived in Israel yesterday to broker negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.