Turkey pushing for Palestinian unity, on heels of reconciliation with Israel 29Mar13 March 29, 2013

Haaretz    -    28 March 2013

137905069Turkish officials are trying to help push forward unity talks between the Palestinian factions, as efforts to resume Ankara’s own ties with Jerusalem continue at full force.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has already held advanced talks on the matter with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and with various Hamas officials, according to reporters covering the Arab League‘s summit in Qatar’s capital city of Doha.

Davutoglu began working on the issue several weeks ago, speaking by telephone many times with Hamas officials including political leader Khaled Meshal.

Turkey got the green light from Egypt to try to move the talks forward, according to reports in the Arab media. Its involvement in the reconciliation efforts reflects why Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced his intentions to visit the Hamas-full Gaza Strip sometime over the next few weeks.

Erdogan will likely hold off that visit until the Palestinian reconciliation efforts yield results, so as not to risk accusations that he is taking a stance against the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian officials told Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper recently that Erdogan plans to make the trip to Gaza together with several other leaders, and that he wants Abbas to either accompany him or be among those welcoming him to the coastal territory.

A Palestinian source told Haaretz that despite Turkey’s promise to assist the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, the gap between the two factions was still wide. He said that in the latest round of talks held in Cairo, Hamas and Fatah officials agreed to disagree on subjects such as the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Following U.S. President Barack Obama‘s visit to the region last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey over the death of civilians in the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid, and agreed to compensate the families of the victim and to take steps towards lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip.

The two countries have set the wheels in motion over the details of the compensation, with Israel set to pay out as much as tens of millions of dollars, according to sources in Turkey.

High-level diplomatic contact between the two countries began earlier this week when Davutoglu spoke with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni over the establishment of a joint committee that will formulate the terms of Israel’s agreement to pay compensation.

Beyond the technical and legal questions over the compensation payments, the waiver of the legal claims and the extent of the blockade on Gaza, the Palestinian issue – rather than the Syrian one – will continue to be the focus of future relations between the two countries. The Turkish foreign minister made clear during the Arab League summit in Doha that Ankara would continue to stand with the Palestinian people and will act in order to end Israeli occupation.

In Turkey, they estimate that the three-year long rift caused by the “Palestinian question” now gives Turkey leverage, and that the nature of the relationship between it and Israel will be largely dependent upon Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians.

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