ISRAELI PRESIDENT Shimon Peres initiated a plan to establish an industrial zone in the West Bank during a historic three-day visit to Turkey this week.
The new economic project, sponsored and financed by industrialists from Turkey and Israel, is intended to create jobs for thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.
A similar project was agreed for the Gaza Strip two years ago, but was disrupted following the Hamas takeover.
In Mr Peres’s address to the Turkish National Assembly, thought to be the first occasion on which an Israeli leader has spoken in the parliament of a Muslim country, he said that Israel was “determined to reach a two-state solution”.
Mr Peres, who was greeted with full military honours and hosted at the presidential palace, also expressed his “gratitude” to Turkey for providing a home to Jewish refugees after the 1492 expulsion from Spain.
“Here,theyfoundahomeoftolerance where they could freely practise their religion,” Mr Peres said in Hebrew.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul arranged for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to be on hand in Ankara at the same time, part of Turkey’s diplo- matic effort to bridge the gap between Israel and its Arab neighbours on the eve of the Annapolis conference. Mr Peres praised Turkey’s role, while warning against expecting quick results. “It takes time to make peace,’’ he said.
Mr Gul said he expected Turkey to be invited to the conference, adding that his recent talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad left him the impression that Damascus was interested in reaching an agreement with Israel. Mr Peres appeared more reserved. “He needs to take action that shows he is serious and come to Jerusalem,’’ he said.
Despite clear differences on regional issues such as Iran’s nuclear crisis — with Mr Gul insisting that all countries had the right to develop a nuclear programme for energy purposes — talks were friendly. The recent incident in which Israeli jets raiding a Syrian target trespassed into Turkish airspace appeared to have been resolved.
Last month, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed there had been no intention of violating Turkey’s sovereignty. Asked about this, Mr Gul said: “Mr Olmert apologised and said this was a mistake. The matter is closed.”