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Is Turkey looking to become a peace mediator between Israel and Palestinians?

Erdoğan may believe that improved ties with Jerusalem will boost Turkey's relations with the US

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, August 23, 2022. (Photo: IMAGO/APAimages via Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to meet Erdoğan separately just a few days later but the visit was postponed on Sunday, following the prime minister's surgery to have a pacemaker implanted.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will welcome the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Turkey in the course of the same week,” read the original announcement released from the Turkish President's Office.

“The leaders will discuss “Turkey-Palestine relations and the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other topical international issues."

Netanyahu was originally set to fly to Cyprus on Tuesday for a summit with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He was then slated to meet with Erdoğan for talks at the end of this week in what would have been the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Ankara since Ehud Olmert in 2008.

Erdoğan's latest diplomatic move is an indication that Turkey is seeking a potential role in mediating talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

PA Turkish envoy, Faed Mustafa, said Abbas' visit to Ankara comes “within the framework of the regular political consultations that take place between the two countries in light of their historical ties.”

Mustafa further told the Voice of Palestine radio station that “this visit is of great importance at this sensitive and delicate phase of the Palestinian cause in wake of local, regional, and international developments and the Israeli aggression again at our people.”

While Turkey is a leading power in the wider Middle East region, Erdoğan is an unlikely peace mediator due to his long-held hostility toward the Jewish state and embrace of the Gaza-ruling Islamist terrorist organization Hamas.

However, following years of deteriorating bilateral ties, Israel and Turkey restored full diplomatic relations in 2022 when both countries announced the return of their respective ambassadors.

In March 2022, Erdoğan hosted Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Ankara. The Israeli president admitted that Turkish-Israeli ties had been strained for quite some time.

“Unfortunately, relations between our countries have gone through a period of some drought in recent years,” Herzog stated at the time.

Looking toward the future, the Israeli president stressed the need for mutual respect between Israel and Turkey.

“I believe that relations between the countries will be examined in actions that reflect a spirit of mutual respect, and will allow us to better deal with regional and global challenges that we all share. Israel and Turkey can and should cooperate in many areas,” Herzog said.

Erdoğan may be taking a pragmatic approach by agreeing to mediate peace talks between Israel and the PA, perhaps believing that Turkey’s ailing economy will benefit from forging stronger ties with the economic and military powerhouse Israel.

In addition, the Turkish presisdent recently signaled that he is interested in becoming the middleman in the potential Israel natural gas export to the large European market. At the same time, Erdoğan's government may believe that improved ties with Jerusalem will boost its relations with the United States.

The Palestinian Boycott and Anti-Normalization Campaign expressed its “great shock” that Turkey had invited Netanyahu to the Turkish capital, adding that the invitation “comes in the midst of the heinous massacres committed by the occupation and its settlers against the Palestinian people.”

The radical group urged the Turkish government to withdraw the invitation to Netanyahu, “which ignores the pain of the Palestinian people.”

However, Erdoğan's diplomatic offensive in the Middle East is the latest sign of Washington’s waning influence in the region, as the U.S. does not currently have as strong ties with the Palestinian Authority as Turkey does. In addition, Turkey’s interest in advancing commercial and diplomatic ties with Israel opens the door for a growing Turkish involvement in Middle Eastern affairs.

Erdoğan made a visit to Iran earlier this month, ahead of the Turkish military offensive against areas in northern Syria controlled by American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The operation threatened to target what Erdoğan considers the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK. 

Following that meeting, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated that the Iran-Turkey relationship is "strategic and in a good place."

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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