ANKARA (Hurriyet)–As a high-level Israeli cabinet member visits Ankara in the first ministerial visit from Israel to Turkey since the countries’ bilateral ties were dealt a blow by the Gaza operation, President Abdullah Gul hinted Tuesday he would not reciprocate with a visit to Israel anytime soon. The Turkish president also expressed concerns over Israeli policies toward Palestinians
President Abdullah Gul hinted there would be no imminent presidential visit from Turkey and urged Israel to embrace more pro-peace policies.
“I am not so sure that Gul will arrive [in Israel],” Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the Israeli minister of trade, industry and labor, told a few journalists in Ankara late Tuesday after he concluded economic and political talks.
In the first ministerial visit from Israel to Turkey since the Gaza operation cast a dark shadow over bilateral ties, Ben-Eliezer met with Gul for 90 minutes and then with Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul. A well-known politician in Ankara, Ben-Eliezer said he was warmly welcomed by all his interlocutors.
The Israeli minister said he repeated President Shimon Peres’ invitation to Gul during the meeting. Early this year, Gul postponed a scheduled visit to Israel in response to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. Likewise, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu canceled his visit to Israel because he would not have been allowed to pass through the Gaza Strip while in the region.
“We had a very open and constructive talk with President Gul. You could smell the good scent in the air from both sides trying to help things get back on track,” Ben-Eliezer said.
According to Turkish diplomats, the meeting was friendly and constructive, but the messages conveyed by Gul to Ben-Eliezer were not very different from those in the past.
Gu repeated Turkey’s concerns over Israeli policies toward Palestinians in Gaza and other parts of the country and said the expanding of residential settlements into the Palestine territories was not seen as a positive development. Urging that Israel do more to ease the way of life in the Gaza Strip, Gul also called on the Israeli government to resume peace talks with Palestine.
“It’s not only Turkey that is highlighting these points, so is the United States,” Gul said, according to diplomats.
Though the Turkish president said he would like to have the opportunity to travel to Israel when the situation permits, the diplomats called this a diplomatic response.
“Obviously Israel is seeking to mend ties, but we have been given conflicting messages,” a diplomat told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review, referring to anti-Turkey statements made by the country’s hard-line foreign minister over the weekend.
During his meeting with the press, Ben-Eliezer underscored that he was in Ankara upon the decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I came here on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu. We’re trying to convince that we are more than trying to change the track in the Middle East,” he said. “The face of the Middle East will completely change if Iran goes nuclear.”
Ben-Eliezer also stated that Israel is ready to resume peace talks with Syria under Turkish mediation and said it was not his personal decision, but that of the Israeli government, in a move seen as trying to dilute Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s public opposition to Turkey’s intervention to the talks. “Everyone has their own conditions. I am trying to rebuild confidence,” Ben-Eliezer said. “We want peace tomorrow morning.”
When asked whether he was satisfied with what he had heard from Turkish officials, he said, “I am returning home with very important messages to the prime minister and the Israeli cabinet.”
Despite his optimistic words, Ben-Eliezer repeated that the government would not allow any foreigner to travel to Gaza when visiting Israel, a principle that is also valid for Davutoglu or any other Turkish minister.
Turkey’s principle, however, is always to talk with both sides when paying a visit to the region, making a high-level trip impossible. Instead, Israel is trying to dispatch Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Ankara as soon as possible to continue its efforts to normalize ties.
On the controversial delivery of the Heron unmanned aerial vehicles that had been delayed due to technical problems, Ben-Eliezer assured that “they were trying to solve it rapidly.” He said he was expecting that the delivery of the Herons would be completed early next year.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Gonul said Turkish officials had discussed the issue with Ben-Eliezer and were trying to stop the cancellation of the signed contract on the purchase.