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Turkey’s foreign minister to arrive in Israel Tuesday for 2-day visit

In latest sign of thawing ties, Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet with Lapid, plans to visit Temple Mount without Israeli officials

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters, in Brussels, April 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters, in Brussels, April 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced Monday evening.

Cavusoglu is slated to land in Israel on Tuesday morning, and will visit Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah later that day.

On Wednesday, Cavusoglu is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. The two diplomats will give public statements together shortly before noon.

Cavusoglu will have lunch with Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, and then will head to Jerusalem’s Old City for a private tour and a visit to the Temple Mount.

Cavusoglu plans to go to the Temple Mount compound without any Israelis accompanying him, the Kan public broadcaster said, citing “an official familiar with the details.”

His plan caused tension between Ankara and Jerusalem, and also sparked an argument involving the Shin Bet internal security service about the security protocol for his visit, the report said.

However, a diplomatic official told The Times of Israel on Monday evening that the plan did not cause any tension.

“Israel is a country with freedom of worship, and there is no problem with a Muslim making a private visit to the Temple Mount,” the official said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu leave the Arc de Triomphe after attending commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, on November 11, 2018. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)

The Temple Mount is the most sacred place for Jews, as the location of the biblical temples, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the mount, is the third-holiest site for Muslims. Israel claims sovereignty throughout Jerusalem and its Old City, but the Temple Mount compound, or Haram al-Sharif, is administered by the Muslim Waqf, and Jews are allowed to visit at certain times, but not pray there.

Cavusoglu will finish his visit Wednesday evening with an event with business leaders in Tel Aviv, and a meeting with the umbrella organization of Turkish Jews in Israel.

President Isaac Herzog and Cavusoglu first announced the Turkish envoy’s planned trip to Israel in March, while Herzog was in Ankara.

Palestinians wave Palestinian and Islamic flags as they rally at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, following the last Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on April 29, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Cavusoglu was supposed to visit in April, but the date was pushed back because Israel wanted to avoid further stoking a tense situation in Jerusalem during Ramadan. There was near-daily fighting between police and Palestinians in the capital during the holiday, mainly revolving around the Temple Mount.

Ties between Jerusalem and Ankara have been warming recently, and Cavusoglu’s visit would be the first trip to the Jewish state by such a senior figure in the Turkish government in years.

The warming bilateral ties hit a minor bump last month over the clashes in Jerusalem, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressing his concern to Herzog over the fighting.

However, soon after, Erdogan said that Turkey’s rapprochement with Jerusalem would continue despite the tensions over the Temple Mount. Erdogan said that Turkey will continue to loudly protest Israeli actions at the holy site, but that it will not have a direct bearing on the countries’ diplomatic ties.

Cavusoglu said last month in a meeting with Israeli journalists that Turkey was seeking a “sustainable relationship” with Israel, but those ties depend on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

“We expect from the Israeli side to respect the international law on the Palestinian issue,” he said.

Cavusoglu spoke with Lapid in January, marking the first phone call to take place between the nations’ foreign ministries in 13 years.

Herzog’s trip to Ankara in early March was the highest-level visit by an Israeli official since former prime minister Ehud Olmert went to Turkey in 2008.

President Isaac Herzog (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential complex in Ankara, on March 9, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey have seen their ties fray during Erdogan’s lengthy tenure, as the Turkish president has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel has been upset by Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

The countries reciprocally withdrew their ambassadors in 2010, after Israeli forces boarded a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, came under attack, and killed 10 Turkish citizens in the ensuing melee.

Relations slowly improved, but broke down again in 2018, after Turkey, angered by the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its envoy from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.

Earlier this month, Erdogan sent a congratulatory letter to Herzog for Israel’s Independence Day, and the two held a phone call, marking the third time in several weeks that the two leaders spoke by phone.

Erdogan also called on April 1 to condemn a series of Palestinian terror attacks that left 11 people dead.

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