'We have always known how to return to dialogue'

Israeli, Turkish FMs announce next steps to warm ties, but no mention of envoy swap

In Jerusalem, Lapid and visiting counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu reveal work on new aviation pact, economic cooperation; restoring full diplomatic relations seems a ways off

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) speaks alongside his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (Asi Efrati/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) speaks alongside his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (Asi Efrati/GPO)

Speaking alongside his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced on Wednesday two additional steps in the slow reconciliation process between the regional powers.

“We agreed to relaunch our Joint Economic Commission,” said Lapid, “and to begin working on a new civil aviation agreement between our countries.”

Lapid and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gave their public statements in English in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem after holding a one-on-one meeting, followed by a larger meeting with their staffs.

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.

The two ministers did not address any timetable for a mutual return of ambassadors, a sign that the much-anticipated step will come only after further progress is made in the bilateral relationship.

After deadly clashes on the Gaza 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.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) speaks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu (middle Left) at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022 (Asi Efrati/GPO)

Lapid said on Wednesday that he and Cavusoglu are expecting to progress in the economic realm alongside closer diplomatic and security ties.

“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.”

Beyond diplomacy, Mr. Minister, Israelis simply love Turkey.

Turning to the recent wave of terror attacks that have taken the lives of 19 Israelis, 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.

He also thanked US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken for their decision to keep the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on their terror list.

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.

Israel has been concerned by Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip. Beyond Lapid’s oblique reference to the terrorist attacks against Israel and his expectation that allies cooperate in the fight on terror, there was no direct mention of Hamas in either of the ministers’ statements.

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.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, center, visits with Dani Dayan, Yad vashem chairman, left, at the Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

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.

Foriegn Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, June 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Cavusoglu, as expected, made sure to bring 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 will be visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount later in the day.

“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.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (right) hosts Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ramallah in the West Bank on May 24, 2022. (Photo by Abbas Momani/ AFP)

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.

Until this week, the most visible Israeli official in the reconciliation process has been President Isaac Herzog, who visited Erdogan in March. The two leaders have spoken by phone several times since then.

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