Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said a long-awaited visit to the Gaza Strip will take place after he travels to Washington, D.C., in mid-May for talks with President Barack Obama.
“I think it will take place after the US visit,” Erdoğan told journalists en route to Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday evening, when he was asked about the planned trip to Gaza. The prime minister had earlier said he planned to visit the Hamas-run territory in April. Erdoğan and Obama are set to meet in Washington on May 16.
The US, which brokered a reconciliation deal between its allies, Turkey and Israel, on Jan. 22 to end their three-year rift, is concerned that Erdoğan's visit to Gaza could undermine the process of normalization between the two countries. During a visit to İstanbul on Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed for a speedy restoration of diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel, saying this is critical for a US-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace process as well as regional stability.
Kerry, meanwhile, is expected to pay yet another visit to Turkey in two weeks, this time to attend an international meeting on Syria. Kerry and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, agreed that the meeting, a gathering of an 11-nation core group of the Friends of Syria, should convene soon.
Israel apologized on March 22 to Turkey for a deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara aid ship in 2010, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish American. The ship was trying to break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In a telephone conversation with Erdoğan, which Obama also briefly joined, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised compensation for the families of the dead and those injured during the raid but made no commitment on the lifting of the blockade.
Turkey, however, insists that the blockade should be lifted. In comments after the March 22 apology, an Israeli official insisted that Israel did not commit to ending its Gaza blockade as part of reconciliation with Turkey and could clamp down even harder on the Palestinian enclave if security is threatened.
Prime Minister Erdoğan has said he wants to visit Gaza to monitor the status of the blockade. But with Kerry calling for Turkish participation in the new Israeli-Palestinian peace process, analysts say Erdoğan's Gaza visit may turn into a welcome development if Erdoğan uses the visit as an opportunity to talk to Hamas about joining peace talks alongside the Palestinian administration led by President Mahmoud Abbas.