France has long been trying to position itself as a mediator between Israel and Syria, who have fought four major wars, in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982. The two countries had started indirect talks mediated by Turkey, but they collapsed when Israel launched a deadly offensive in Gaza in December 2008, killing about 1,400 Palestinians before the operation was completed in January 2009.
Syria, which has built close ties with Turkey in recent years, insists Ankara remain a mediator in any new peace talks, while Israel, whose relations with Turkey deteriorated sharply after a bloody Israeli raid on an aid flotilla on May 31, welcomes French involvement. Relations between Turkey and Israel received a blow when Israel launched the Gaza offensive while the flotilla raid, which killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American, brought relations to a standstill. The attack is now being separately investigated by Turkish and Israeli officials, as well as the United Nations.
In a sign that Turkish-Israeli tension could harm prospects for Turkish mediation, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in July that the crisis in the aftermath of the flotilla raid could undermine Ankara’s role in the peace process. “If the relationship between Turkey and Israel is not renewed, it will be very difficult for Turkey to play a role in negotiations [to revive the Middle East peace process],” he said during a visit to Spain.
Al-Assad later told Turkish journalists that Turkey remains Syria’s first choice for mediator and that other countries could only play a supportive role, not an alternative one. But he also suggested that the resumption of talks with Turkish mediation could be difficult if Turkey’s demands from Israel for an apology and compensation for families of victims are not met.
“Turkey cannot give up on the blood of its nationals for the sake of mediation. Otherwise, it might lose its weight and credibility,” al-Assad said.
Sarkozy seeks to boost his country’s standing in the Middle East by playing a credible role in peace efforts. In his Wednesday speech, the French leader also said France was proposing to host a conference in Paris to help the Palestinians raise funds to complete the reconstruction of their economy and a future state.
Sarkozy said resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians on Sept. 2 “creates huge expectations, great hope” and added that they should not end in disappointment. “Let me tell you: A peace agreement, whose parameters are familiar to everyone, can be signed within a year,” he said. “A viable, democratic Palestinian state established on the basis of the 1967 borders is both a right for the Palestinians and the best guarantee of Israel’s security and complete integration in the region in keeping with the Arab Peace Initiative.”