Minister for International Affairs Yuval Steinitz on Sunday dismissed reports that Turkey may take an active role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians in future peace talks.
In an interview to IDF Radio, Steinitz said the process did not require any additional mediation to that already provided by the International Quartet.
“I think it is a baseless report. I personally am not familiar with any such decision,” said Steinitz in response to a Turkish media report claiming US Secretary of State John Kerry planned to ask Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to play a part in the Mideast peace process during talks in Ankara on Sunday.
On Friday, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that it was Erdogan’s close ties and potential influence on the Gaza-based Hamas that made him a useful broker, while noting that the relationship also made him a liability, noting that he was being urged to improve ties with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.
“Turkey has significant influence with the Palestinians. It has the ability to encourage Palestinians of all stripes to accept Quartet principles and move forward on that basis,” US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on April 4.
“We do not negotiate with Hamas, so any ties [Erdogan may have] with Hamas are irrelevant,” Steinitz said.
“With the Palestinian Authority, we can negotiate directly, so there is no need for mediation. If anybody does mediate it will be the International Quartet,” he added.
When asked if Israel saw Turkey’s belligerent attitude towards Israel in recent years as an obstacle, Steinitz said it was time the two countries repaired ties.
A senior Israeli official told Walla News that Kerry’s initiative may be part of a US effort to pressure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
Diplomatic sources told Yedioth Ahronoth that “While Erdogan can definitely assist by putting pressure on Hamas to accept the Quartet’s conditions, with all due respect, we have had bitter experience with him in the Syrian context. Erdogan is not a neutral mediator. The fact that we have reached a rapprochement with him does not erase his anti-Semitic statements from a month ago.”
Palestinain Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki also said Turkish mediation would be “ineffective,” saying his government preferred the Quartet, and especially the US, broker talks because of their influence on Israel.
Kerry arrived in Turkey early Sunday on the first leg of a 10-day trip to Europe and Asia.
Kerry was expected to encourage Turkish leaders to continue improving ties with Israel. The two countries were once allies, but relations spiraled downward after Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American died in the interception during clashes with Israeli commandos.
Hopes for rapprochement improved after US President Barack Obama brokered a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s Erdogan, while Obama was in Israel last month.
An Israeli delegation was set to visit Ankara later this week to begin talks on compensation to the victims’ families.
Kerry planned to fly from Turkey to Jerusalem for meetings with the presidents and prime ministers of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He had accompanied Obama there and made a solo trip to Israel shortly after.
Though expectations are low for any breakthrough on Kerry’s trip, his diplomacy represents some of the Obama administration’s most sustained efforts for ending more than six decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.