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December 6, 2013 1:21 pm

Israeli Minister Peretz Talks Reconciliation in Turkey

avatar by Joshua Levitt

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Former Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Photo: Wikipedia.

Israeli Environment Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday spoke about reconciliation with the Turkish government in Istanbul, in the first visit from an Israeli government minister since 2010, when the Gaza flotilla incident ruined relations between the two countries, Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News reported on Friday.

“I believe that problems between Turkey and Israel will be resolved very soon,” Peretz told reporters on the sidelines of a United Nations conference on pollution in the Mediterranean. “The people of Israel and the people of Turkey expect their governments to reconcile as soon as possible.”

The trip was not an official visit, with Peretz not expected to meet his Turkish counterpart during the visit, a Turkish foreign ministry official told AFP. An envoy from the Israeli foreign ministry was in Istanbul in November for an energy conference. Turkish Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar attended the event.

As development of Israel’s natural gas fields matures, a strategic decision of how to get the energy into Europe will likely involve a route through Cyprus or a pipeline directly to Turkey, giving both sides a large financial incentive to improve their relations.

At the November energy conference in Istanbul, Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz said, “Turkey is interested in Israeli gas,” and that “although there are political problems, they are solvable.”

In May, after three years, Israeli and Turkish officials reached a draft agreement to end their diplomatic dispute. Turkey broke off relations with Israel following the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, when Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara vessel as it attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The incident resulted in the death of nine Turkish militants who had attacked the Israelis.

The diplomatic standoff between Israel and Turkey ended when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, encouraged by U.S. President Barack Obama, called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the end of Obama’s recent visit to Israel and apologized for the deaths of the flotilla militants.

In Istanbul, Peretz said on Thursday that Turkey and Israel were already very “connected,” but “We need to increase our cooperation. There are no borders to the environment. We need to find new ways of communicating to overcome the walls between us.”

Peretz also addressed peace talks with the Palestinian Authority and the Geneva agreement on Iran’s nuclear aspirations: “I certainly believe the Palestinians have the right to build their own state, I take on the two-state solution. I believe that the Iran talks in Geneva did not have a negative effect on the negotiations we have with the Palestinians.”

“We still have five more months to complete talks, in that time we need to reach an agreement with both Iran and Palestine. Obviously, though, we do not want an Iran armed with nuclear weapons,” he said.

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