Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed the potential return of their countries’ ambassadors during a one-on-one meeting Wednesday at the Foreign Ministry, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.
The two diplomats reached an understanding on the issue that both sides are happy with. Sources indicated that restoring full diplomatic ties is not imminent, and the countries are adopting a gradual approach.
The two ministers did not address the ambassador issue during their subsequent public statements, and there was no indication of a timeframe for the move.
After deadly clashes between the IDF and Gazans on the border in 2018, Turkey expelled Israel’s envoy and subjected him to a humiliating security check in front of cameras, causing Jerusalem to respond in kind
Lapid and Cavusoglu also discussed Hamas during their Wednesday meeting. Israel is adamant that Turkey curb Hamas terror activities from its territory before full ties are restored.
The tete-a-tete between the two ministers went well beyond the allotted time, The Times of Israel has learned, in the usual sign that progress was being made.
After the meeting, Lapid announced two concrete measures that indicated progress in the slow reconciliation process between the regional powers.
“We agreed to relaunch our Joint Economic Commission,” said Lapid in his public statement, “and to begin working on a new civil aviation agreement between our countries.”
Israeli airlines have been effectively locked out of the lucrative Turkish market since 2007, after Turkey refused to accommodate Israel’s special security requirements. In the meantime, Turkish Airlines consolidated its position as the second-largest airline operating out of Israel, after El Al.
A new aviation agreement is expected to open the way for Israeli carriers to once again fly to Turkey, a leading tourism destination for Israelis.
“In our constructive meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, we discussed all aspects of our relations” tweeted Cavusoglu after the meeting. “We emphasized that the Palestinian problem can only be resolved through two states to be established within the framework of the UN parameters, and we conveyed our sensitivities regarding Jerusalem and Masjid al-Aqsa.”
He then met with Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej.
Lapid said during the public statements that he and Cavusoglu are expecting to progress in the economic realm alongside closer diplomatic and security ties.
#İsrail Turizm Bakanı Yoel Razvozov ve Bölgesel İşbirliği Bakanı Esawi Frej ile çalışma yemeğinde biraraya geldik.
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) May 25, 2022
“The goal is to form and expand economic and civil cooperation between our countries,” said Lapid, “to create business-to-business and people-to-people ties, and to leverage our two countries’ comparative advantages regionally and globally.”
“Beyond diplomacy, Mr. Minister, Israelis simply love Turkey,” said Lapid, pointing to the thousands of Israelis who fly to the country every day.
“We won’t pretend that our relationship has not seen its ups and downs,” Lapid acknowledged, “but we remember that Turkey was the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel, back in 1949. And we have always known how to return to dialogue and cooperation.”
Turning to the recent wave of terror attacks against Israelis that have killed 19 people, Lapid said that “we expect our friends to cooperate with us in this battle.”
“Today, we are initiating a new framework for improving our relations that not only we, but our children, will benefit from for years to come,” said Lapid.
Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey saw their ties fray throughout President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Cavusoglu, who visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial earlier in the day, thanked Lapid for the “candid and frank” meetings they held before their public statements.
“We agreed that despite our differences, the continuation of a sustainable dialogue will be beneficial,” he said, “and this will be based on mutual respect to one another’s sensitivities.”
Cavusoglu noted that the two exchanged views on “regional issues,” likely a reference to Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s involvement in Syria, where Turkish forces and its proxies occupy several buffer zones which Ankara says are needed to push Kurdish fighters away from its borders.
Cavusoglu also announced that the two foreign ministries would resume staff meetings, headed by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz and Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal.
Cavusoglu, as expected, brought up the Palestinians, stressing Turkey’s view that two states “with UN parameters” was the only lasting solution to the conflict.
“I also, of course, shared our sensitivity regarding Jerusalem, and the sanctity of Haram al-Sharif,” he said, using the Muslim term for Jerusalem’s Temple Mount complex.
Cavusoglu visited the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount later Wednesday.
“We believe that normalization of our ties will also have a positive impact on the peaceful resolution of the conflict,” he said.
Turkish leaders, including Erdogan, regularly justify their desire to improve ties with Israel by stressing that it will benefit Palestinians.
Immediately after landing Tuesday, Cavusoglu headed for Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki.
Cavusoglu’s visit to Israel, the first trip by a foreign minister in 15 years, comes as Turkey’s relationship with Israel continues to thaw after a lengthy period of hostility.
Turkey’s efforts to woo Israel are part of a larger campaign to improve ties with European and Middle Eastern powers, especially Israel’s partners in the Arab world. Many of these countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have treated Turkey as a leading geopolitical and ideological adversary over the last decade.