TEL AVIV (Hurriyet)–Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday told the members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel is interested in direct talks with Syria over Turkish mediated negotiations, adding that his government would prefer Paris over Ankara in a situation in which a mediator is required, reported the Israeli Web site ynetnews.com.
“I spoke with [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy,” said Netanyahu. “Sarkozy mentioned the Turkish mediation that the Syrians propose and I responded to him, saying we are interested in direct negotiations, and if we are talking about a mediator – I prefer you.”
Netanyahu also addressed the tense Israel-Turkey relations and Ben-Eliezer’s recent visit to Ankara, saying, “His visit led to moderation and closer ties with them.”
The announcement came hours after Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said late Sunday that Israel values Turkey’s mediation efforts yet wants direct negotiations with Syria.
Despite harsh statements exchanged between Turkey and Israel, the two countries’ bilateral relations will continue and strengthen due to a natural alliance, said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
The Israeli minister met a group of journalists and other opinion leaders in Tel Aviv within the framework of a visit organized by the American Jewish Committee. One of the messages given by Ayalon was that Turkey should not let its bilateral relations be affected by Syria or Palestine.
“There have been mediation efforts by the United States and France. They failed too, but this did not affect our bilateral ties,” said Ayalon, who previously served as the Israeli ambassador to Washington.
Israeli–Syrian indirect negotiations under Turkish mediation came to a halt last year when Israel started to bomb Gaza, a move openly criticized by the Turkish government. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Israeli president at a world forum early this year of knowing how to kill civilians.
The tension escalated when Turkey excluded Israel from an international military exercise for political reasons and allowed a TV series to air that was criticized by Israel for disseminating anti-Semitic sentiments.
In mid-November, Netanyahu said that Turkey could not be an impartial mediator in talks between Israel and Syria. Tensions were eased when Israeli Industry and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer visited Ankara in late November. Both sides are waiting for steps to be taken.
According to Ayalon, Israel never saw a problem with Turkey’s mediation efforts, although there were those who questioned the country’s impartiality. “When the rhetoric went high, we said it was not conducive to the perception of impartiality,” he said. “Some people questioned Turkey’s impartiality, but I think this is behind us.”
If there is progress in the future, Turkey will be the first to come to mind to help, added Ayalon.
This time, however, Israel wants direct negotiations with Syria, Ayalon said, blaming Syria for the failure of last year’s indirect talks. “The talks with Syria did not stop because of Israel or Turkey. They stopped because of Syrian intransigence,” he said.
For talks to restart, Ayalon said, Syria needs to show goodwill and stop supporting Hezbollah and Hamas: “We don’t fire at each other and talk at the same time.”
When he was reminded that Israel started bombing Gaza in the middle of talks with Syria, Ayalon said firing was continuing from Gaza to Israel. Turkey would not have tolerated bombs, he said, adding that Israel’s mistake was to start negotiations with Syria as it was supplying Hamas.
Identifying the operation in Gaza as an act of self-defense, Ayalon said, “This is not to say that Turkey cannot show solidarity with the suffering in Gaza.” The deputy foreign minister added that the operation had succeeded because rockets are no longer being fired from Gaza.
Repeating several times that Turkey should not give Syrians or Palestinians veto power over Turkish-Israeli relations, Ayalon said the two governments are looking to improve relations despite harsh rhetoric on both sides. The two countries’ undersecretaries of foreign ministry will meet in January, one of the first such meetings since the establishment of the new government in Israel in April.
Adding that the international community avoids going to Gaza, Ayalon was not clear, however, about high-level political contacts. Israel expects President Abdullah Gül to pay an official visit, while the Turkish side insists on first seeing an Israeli policy change in Gaza.