“If Israel decides that the time is ripe for restarting talks with Syria under Turkish mediation as they now have a settled government -- thus possibly having a settled policy regarding its dispute with Syria -- then we hope it will draw closer to the idea of restarting indirect talks,” diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Today's Zaman on Tuesday.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told US officials during a visit to Washington last week that Damascus wants to pick up the dialogue from where the two sides left off, English language Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, citing a news report by Israeli Radio.
Turkish diplomatic sources, approached by Today's Zaman, confirmed the report, acknowledging that Davutoğlu reiterated, while in Washington, that “Turkey is ready to resume its role as mediator whenever both sides are ready to restart the talks.” The indirect talks between Syria and Israel were formally suspended during a three-week Israeli offensive on the Gaza strip that halted in January.
During an official visit to Damascus last month, Turkish President Abdullah Gül urged Israel to work toward resuming peace talks with Syria and said Ankara was ready to continue its role as a mediator. “Israel has to show clearly it is a partner,” Gül said after talks with President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian capital. “We have heard Syria say it is ready to resume the peace talks from the point where they stopped with the previous [Israeli] government. We in Turkey are also ready,” he said.
Reliable sources close to the issue, meanwhile, separately told Today's Zaman that Ankara has actually observed Israel's willingness to restart the talks. However, the same sources, noted that Israel has been “feigning reluctance,” due to certain Turkish domestic debates that also concern Israel, citing, for example, a delay by Parliament in the approval of a government-backed bill that might allow foreign companies to demine Turkey's border with Syria.
Parliament began discussing the bill on May 12, but deliberations lasted until June 4 because of the opposition's objections. Speculation that an Israeli company would win the contract has inflamed sentiments, and the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was forced to rewrite parts of the bill. Last Wednesday, after weeks of deliberation, Parliament approved the bill, which is controversial because it could allow foreign companies to do the job in return for the right to farm the fertile land for up to 44 years after the demining is completed in five years' time. Opposition parties objected that the measure was contrary to Turkey's national interests.
While Ankara was repeating its willingness to mediate talks between Israel and Syria, as long as sides are willing for Turkey to do so, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell was visiting Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday, with the US stepping up pressure for progress on peace negotiations.
Mitchell had visited Ankara in late February for talks on peace in the troubled region as part of a tour that later took him to Israel and Palestine. Mitchell was advised in Ankara that Washington should consider all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict equally if it wants to be a fair and effective mediator.