On the second day of an official visit to Saudi Arabia, Gül addressed members of the Saudi Consultative Council, becoming the first-ever foreign Muslim leader to address the Saudi assembly. His visit to Saudi Arabia came following Israel's recent deadly offensive in the Gaza Strip, which led to the death of hundreds of civilians.
Describing the Saudi peace plan that calls for Israel to return to the 1967 borders in exchange for full normalization of relations with the Arab states as a "guiding principle," Gül recalled and voiced appreciation that Saudi King Abdullah had hosted leaders of Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas in the holy city of Mecca in early 2007, hoping that the two groups could restart negotiations to form a national unity government.
"If the Palestinians had continued embracing each other like they did there [in Mecca], I'm sure the Palestinian cause would today be much stronger, and these grievances we have experienced in recent days would not have taken place," Gül was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
"I hope this happens from now on because division among Palestinians is the biggest dynamite in the foundations of an independent Palestinian state. Can we imagine two separate Palestinian states? We should all see what a big shame this is. In that regard, the number one issue is the unity of the Palestinians, the unity of the Arab world and the unity of the Muslim world, with all of us showing our responsibility and desire to act together when there are major issues," Gül added.
Israel launched a military offensive on Dec. 27 to force Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, to stop firing rockets at southern Israeli towns. Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed, of whom over 700 were civilians.
President Abdullah Gül called for unity among Palestinian factions in his address and cooperation against rising Islamophobia.
The Turkish president also voiced uneasiness with tendencies associating Islam with terrorism, displaying extremist groups' ominous acts as the main reason for such tendencies.
"Unfortunately, when these kinds of examples emerge, these terror actions are immediately introduced and mentioned together with our religion. Some are doing this with ill intentions, while others do so out of ignorance," Gül said. "Our religion is the religion of peace, our religion is a religion which urges respect for people and which orders peace. We've never had any business with terrorism; however, terrorists may emerge from [all] societies from every religion. That's why we have been stressing that mentioning the holy religion of Islam with terror is a grave mistake. This should definitely be stopped because these kinds of expressions are unfortunately spreading enmity toward Islam -- namely, Islamophobia," Gül said.
Upon his arrival in Riyadh on Tuesday, Gül was received by Saudi King Abdullah at the airport in an apparent gesture of reciprocal respect after Gül had been criticized in Turkey at the time for going out of his way to meet the king at the airport and at his hotel while in Turkey.
The incident took place in November 2007, shortly after Gül, a former foreign minister, became president. Some columnists and newspapers at the time criticized a meeting between King Abdullah and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Swissôtel Ankara, where the king and a large delegation accompanying him stayed during their visit. The meeting was later joined by President Gül, sparking comments in the media that the gathering was in violation of state protocol rules according to which the president is expected to receive his guests at the presidential palace, not visit the guests at private facilities such as the Swissôtel. Yet, the Foreign Ministry had defended their reception of King Abdullah, saying the gestures that newspapers said violated protocol rules were indicative of Turkey's desire to improve dialogue with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.