Ankara says Egypt chief actor in Palestinian dialogue

Turkey has not asked Egypt to relinquish its efforts to broker reconciliation between Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah, says a diplomat. ‘Egypt is the No. 1 actor in intra-Palestinian reconciliation,’ he adds

Turkey has denied claims that it asked Egypt to abandon its role as mediator in Palestinian reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah.

“Would such an appeal comply with international diplomatic rules or with Middle East policy?” asked a senior Turkish diplomat who declined to be named. “Egypt is the No. 1 actor in intra-Palestinian reconciliation,” he said.

Cairo has been mediating talks between radical Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction to heal the bitter divisions between the two groups, which were aggravated when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Israeli daily Haaretz reported last week that the Turkish government has asked Egypt to relinquish its mediator role.

Ankara made the formal request to Egypt’s powerful intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, who is in charge of reconciliation talks for Cairo, and sent a separate message to Abbas conveying its willingness to aid in advancing the Palestinian dialogue, said the daily, citing satellite news network Al Jazeera.

In July, when Abbas met with Turkish officials in Ankara, he said he appreciated Turkey’s efforts for dialogue between Fatah and Hamas, said the diplomat. But he made clear that Ankara has not made any request to the Palestinian leader in order to replace Cairo’s role as exclusive mediator.

‘No response’ from Israel yet

Turkey, willing to use its good ties with the Arab world and Israel to encourage a peaceful settlement to the Middle East conflict, has been mediating indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria. The talks, however, came to a halt due to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza early this year.

“Syria expresses readiness to resume peace negotiations through Turkey’s mediation, but there is no response from Israel yet,” said the diplomat.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently visited Syria, said Turkey was ready to resume its role as mediator. “Requests to resume the process have started to come in, we should get to work on this issue,” he said.

Israel’s right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems reluctant to reactivate the frozen talks after the Turkish prime minister’s fierce confrontation with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January over the Israeli strike in Gaza.

According to diplomatic observers, Israel, unwilling to progress on the Palestinian track amid the continuing settlement activity in the West Bank, will be forced to proceed on the Syrian track, but for the talks to restart under Turkish mediation Ankara needs to regain Israeli confidence. President Abdullah Gül, Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu all traveled to Syria but no visit has been made to Tel-Aviv yet.

“Right now there is no scheduled visit to Israel but it will take place when the time is ripe. Israel is our close neighbor and ally,” said the Turkish diplomat. “We would only be happy about the start of peace talks between Israel and Syria.”