ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is open to improved relations with Israel, but the country must first display “more sensitive” policies toward Palestinians.
Erdogan told a group of journalists in Qatar late Tuesday that better ties with Israel would be “beneficial” for peace in the wider region.
“But at this point, Israel needs to be more sensitive concerning its Palestinian policy. It needs to be sensitive about Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said in reference to the Temple Mount compound that is holy to Jews and Muslims.
“As soon as we detect the sensitivities, we will do our best and take steps (for better ties),” Erdogan said.
The Turkish leader’s comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency and other Turkish media on Wednesday.
Erdogan pointed to interest from the United Arab Emirates to mend its ties with Turkey, which has included a visit by the UAE crown prince to Ankara, as an example of what could happen with Israel too.
“Our foreign minister and intelligence units will play an active role regarding relations with Abu Dhabi,” Erdogan said according to a report from the Daily Sabah. “A similar process could happen with Israel too, why not?”
He said he has “had talks with Israel in the past” and offered that Turkey is prepared to mutually re-appoint envoys with the Jewish state under the right circumstances.
Following the November visit by Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Turkey, Erdogan similarly said it could serve as an example of improving ties with Israel, and also Egypt.
Once robust regional allies, relations between Israel and Turkey have frayed throughout Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Israel, for its part, is upset by Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.
The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. Though most of the participating vessels were boarded without incident, those onboard a Turkish ferry boat violently resisted the Israeli action resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.
Relations broke down again in 2018, after Turkey, angered by the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its ambassador from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.
In a sign of improving ties, however, Erdogan has recently held telephone calls with Israeli President Isaac Herzog as well as with Naftali Bennett — during which the new Israeli prime minister thanked the Turkish leader for his role in the release of an Israeli couple who were arrested in Istanbul on suspicion of spying.
The steps toward a rapprochement with Israel comes as Turkey has been trying to end its international isolation by normalizing its troubled ties with several countries in the region, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.