Middle East peace will prove impossible without Palestinian unity, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Friday, suggesting Ankara could help reconcile the Fatah and Hamas parties.
"The process of unity between Fatah and Hamas, this has to be achieved," Erdogan told a Washington think tank during a visit to the United States.
"If this reconciliation is not achieved, then I don't believe that a solution or result will come out of the Israeli-Palestinian discussions."
And he revealed he had told Tony Blair, the special envoy for the Quartet of nations shepherding the talks, that "Hamas has to be around the table for peace to emerge in the Middle East."
He was speaking after he met on Thursday with US President Barack Obama and confirmed that he plans to visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as well as Fatah's West Bank stronghold next month despite US opposition.
The dual stops mean Erdogan would meet with the Hamas rulers of Gaza as well as with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, likely in Ramallah.
"Turkey, I think there is a lot that we can do because we can talk to Hamas, we can talk to Fatah... We want them to get together, to agree to each other," Erdogan told the Brookings Institution, speaking through a translator.
If a reconciliation between the two Palestinian sides were reached "I think that the talks with Israel would be moving forward more swiftly," he added.
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Washington has urged Erdogan to postpone any visit to the Gaza Strip, saying it would be a "distraction" from its efforts to revive the moribund Middle East peace process.
"As we've said consistently, we oppose engagement with Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization which remains a destabilizing force in Gaza and the region," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
"We urge all parties who share our interest in the creation of a Palestinian state to take steps that promote the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel."
Hamas and the more moderate Fatah have been estranged since the Islamic militants won a sweeping election victory to take control of Gaza in 2007.
Erdogan's announcement that he would also visit the West Bank appeared aimed at soothing US anger that he would meet with militant Hamas leaders in Gaza.
Washington has stood fast in its support of Abbas's Palestinian Authority as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
Since Secretary of State John Kerry took office in February there has been a renewed effort by Washington to galvanize international efforts to kick-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled since late 2010.
Kerry is returning to the Middle East region next week and is expected to make his fourth visit to Israel in three months.
The Turkish prime minister also insisted that "Israel has to withdraw to the '67 borders" to mark the outlines of a future Palestinian state and demonstrate that it truly believes in a two-state solution.
"As long as Israel does not accept Palestine as a state, there is not much to talk about in terms of trying to achieve peace," he said, adding: "I hope that common sense prevails and this problem in the Middle East is resolved."