International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz dismissed reports that the US will ask Turkey to act as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in an interview with Israel Radio Sunday morning.

Steinitz was responding to reports in the Turkish media that during US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Istanbul - his second trip to Turkey in two months- he will offer the country a role in the Middle East diplomatic process.

Steinitz said he did not believe the reports to be true and stressed that there is no substitute for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, he added that the Quartet on the Middle East closely follows issues surrounding the conflict.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki supported Steinitz's opinion, saying that Turkish mediation was not likely to be helpful since it had not yet renewed strategic relations with Israel. In an interview with radio station The Voice of Palestine, cited by Israel Radio, Malki said that the PA would prefer the Quartet to continue mediating, particularly the US due its influence on Israel. 

Kerry arrived in Turkey Saturday night on the first stop of a six-country tour that will take him to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Sunday through Tuesday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing last week that Kerry would meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discuss the “complex issues surrounding Middle East peace.”

In the past, she said, they have discussed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, “and our insistence that Quartet principles need to be abided by if this is going to serve the cause of peace.”

While not directly referring to Erdogan’s announced intention to visit the Gaza Strip this month, Nuland said that in the past the US has urged senior Turkish officials that any contact with Hamas be “in service to the greater issue of stability and peace, and that the fundamental underlying tenets of the Quartet principles be reiterated as the necessary precondition.” The Quartet principles are that Hamas recognize Israel, forswear terrorism and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The prospect of Erdogan indeed going ahead with a trip to Gaza, which he has threatened to do a number of times in the past, seemed to fade somewhat with the announcement that he will be meeting US President Barack Obama in the White House on May 16. The US has in the past urged Erdogan to refrain from making that trip, arguing it would undercut Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and strengthen Hamas.

Asked whether Turkey could play a role in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, something Ankara has expressed an interest in doing, Nuland said Turkey certainly “has significant influence with the Palestinians. It has the ability to encourage Palestinians of all stripes to accept Quartet principles and move forward on that basis.”

One Israeli official said that Turkey is one of any number of international actors – the EU, the French, British, Russians and the UN – which would like to have a larger role in the diplomatic process. “We are ready for countries to play a positive role in the peace process, the official said, adding that to do so these countries “have to have the confidence of both sides.”

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