Speaking at a conference in Istanbul on Thursday, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, the highest-ranking Israeli official to visit Turkey since the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, said, "We must find ways to break down walls and strengthen ties with our neighbors."
Peretz, a member of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah party, traveled to Turkey to attend a U.N.-sponsored conference on preventing pollution in the Mediterranean Sea.
"I certainly believe that the Palestinians have a right to their own independent state, in accordance with the principle of two states for two peoples," Peretz told the conference.
"The next five months are critical. During these months, the negotiations with Iran on a final agreement will be completed and I hope that the agreement will ensure that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons. In the coming five months, it is also expected that we will complete our negotiations with the Palestinians."
Israel's once-close ties with Turkey were severed after nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed in a clash with Israeli naval commandos on board the Mavi Marmara ship in May 2010. The Mavi Marmara was part of a flotilla that was attempting to breach Israel's maritime blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Turkish Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdogan Bayraktar was present during Peretz's speech on Thursday.
"We are here in Turkey, a very important country, and my hope is in the very near future we will be able to overcome the rift between Israel and Turkey," Peretz said. "I know the citizens of Israel and the citizens of Turkey hope that their governments will reach agreement soon."