At their meeting in Jerusalem Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is interested in concluding a reconciliation agreement with Israel as soon as possible and to put an end to the crisis between Jerusalem and Ankara.
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Senior Israeli officials who were briefed on the substance of the meeting between Biden and Netanyahu, and who asked not to be identified due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter, said Biden told Netanyahu that he was prepared to assist in any way possible in transmitting messages between the prime minister and Erdogan or any other step that would make it possible to overcome the disagreement between the two countries.
Netanyahu told Biden that negotiating teams from Israel and Turkey have maintained continuous contact, the Israeli officials said, but have still not been able to come to an agreement. Netanyahu is said to have told his American guest that Israel is "negotiating with the intention of proceeding to an agreement," but added that "we too have red lines."
Ties between the two countries deteriorated sharply after a confrontation in the Mediterranean in May 2010 between Israel Navy commandos and passengers on the Mavi Marmara, a ship that was part of a flotilla seeking to break Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Ten of the ship's passengers were killed in the confrontation and a number of the commandos were injured in the confrontation.
The main red line about which Netanyahu spoke to Biden related to Israel's demand that Hamas' military headquarters in Istanbul, which has been planning, financing and pressing for the commission of terrorist attacks in the West Bank, be shut down. Netanyahu made no mention of the Turkish demand that Israel substantially ease the blockade of Gaza as an issue that was standing in the way of an agreement.
One of the man reasons for Biden's interest in advancing the reconciliation process between Turkey and Israel relates to the prospect of cooperation between the two countries in producing and exporting natural gas. Biden has expressed the belief that cooperation in the gas sector among the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean could create an alliance that would enhance stability in the region.
"Little old Israel is about to become the epicenter of energy in this entire region, and can have a profound, profound positive impact on relationships from Egypt to Turkey to Cyprus to Greece to Jordan. And it's not easy getting there, but you have the tools now to be able to get there," Biden said during statements he made with Netanyahu at the beginning of their Wednesday meeting.
About a month and a half ago, after a visit to Turkey, Biden called Netanyahu to discuss contacts over efforts to reach a reconciliation agreement and briefed the Israeli prime minster on the results of his talks. Netanyahu had met with Biden a week earlier on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and reconciliation with Turkey was one of the major topics of their conversation at the time as well.
On February 22, Turkish President Erdogan convened a special cabinet meeting to discuss reconciliation with Israel. According to the Turkish-based Hurriyet Daily News, in the course of the meeting, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the contacts with Israel were close to being concluded, adding that it was possible that that shortly thereafter the two countries would issue a joint statement on the end of the crisis.
Since then, senior Turkish officials have continued to voice optimism over the prospect of reconciliation with Israel, and every few days the matter has been a subject of Turkish media coverage. In Israel, on the other hand, it has been stressed that sticking points in the negotiations remain, along with the stance that the optimism that has been conveyed by the government in Ankara is conveying is overstated.