December 28, 2015, Monday/ 16:51:44/ DOĞAN ERTUĞRUL
Karel Valansi, a political columnist with Turkish-Jewish weekly Şalom newspaper, told Today's Zaman in an exclusive interview on Monday that if the negotiation between Turkish and Israeli decision makers manages to restore ties between Ankara and Tel Aviv, there is a great chance President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will consider reviving a plan to make his postponed visit to Gaza, which would make him the first foreign leader to enter Gaza through Israel.
“I believe this trip [of Erdoğan to Gaza] will take place if relations are restored. If Erdoğan goes to Gaza, this will be such an amazing development that no one will pay attention to where he enters from. The emir of Qatar [Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani] once entered [Gaza] through Egypt. However, to enter Gaza he does not have any other option [other than Israel], unless relations with Egypt are restored,” Valansi stated.
President Erdoğan has stated several times in the past few years that he has plans to visit Gaza soon and that authorities are having talks with officials in Gaza to make this trip possible. However, no such trip has taken place yet.
Israeli officials said in early December that the two countries had reached a preliminary agreement to normalize relations, including the return of ambassadors to both countries, during a recent meeting in Switzerland between the incoming head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen; a special Israeli envoy, Joseph Ciechanover; and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu.
A Turkish official speaking to Reuters confirmed the deal, saying Turkey is making progress in talks with Israel and a final deal to restore ties will not take long.
Valansi stated she is not sure if Israeli leaders will allow Erdoğan to use Israeli soil to enter Gaza.
“This is the main question here. This kind of permission has never been granted to any other leader before. If Erdoğan is given it, he will be the first. Moreover, Israelis are aware of the AK Party's [Justice and Development Party] discourse, which is full of hatred. It is too early to make any prediction about this,” Valansi stated.
Valansi also noted that Turkish society is not ready to hear Israel-friendly statements, and moves from Turkish politicians and criticism of the words from the spokesperson for Turkey's ruling AK Party, Ömer Çelik, proved this right.
“[The AK Party's] years-long efforts to portray Israel as a ‘baby killer' or ‘terrorist state' and to turn the Palestine-Israel conflict into a war of two religions in the minds of the people yielded fruit, naturally. In order to change this [negative image], a lot of effort must be exerted [by the AK Party government],” Valansi added.
Çelik said on Dec. 20 that there is no concrete agreement between Turkey and Israel to normalize bilateral relations, which deteriorated following an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship in 2010, but stated that “Israel and the Israeli people are friends of Turkey.”
“There is no concrete agreement, [or] anything that has been signed. Efforts have been ongoing for a draft [text],” Çelik said, adding: “The Israeli state and Israeli nation are a friend of Turkey. The criticisms we have made up until now were about the Israeli government's extreme acts, acts we don't see as legitimate,” Çelik said.
Today's Zaman 28 December 2015