Turkish FM: Palestinians back thaw with Israel, new envoy to be named within days

Ahead of visit Tuesday by PA leader Abbas, Cavusoglu rejects notion Palestinian cause will be harmed by restoration of ties with Israel

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and then-foreign minister Yair Lapid shake hands after statements, in Ankara, Turkey, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and then-foreign minister Yair Lapid shake hands after statements, in Ankara, Turkey, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday that his country would be presenting a new ambassador to Israel in the “coming days,” and defended the resumption of full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, saying Palestinians were in favor of the move.

Cavusoglu, in an interview with Turkish television days after the announcement that the two countries will reciprocally reinstate their ambassadors, and ahead of a visit Tuesday to Ankara by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, claimed that the Palestinians knew they stood to benefit from closer ties between Jerusalem and Ankara.

Both the Palestinian Authority-ruling Fatah faction and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip “know that through this dialogue we will better defend the Palestinian cause,” he said. “Normalizing our relations with Israel does not mean that Turkey will make concessions.”

Cavusoglu cited a phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, in April, amid ramped-up tensions surrounding Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

“Israel broke the rule of not entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan,” he said, referring to claims that Israeli security forces had broken the fragile status quo at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. Cavusoglu asserted that in the wake of the call, the situation on the ground improved.

The two countries announced the full renewal of diplomatic ties last Wednesday, following a recent phone conversation between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visits the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 25, 2022. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

Lapid hailed the development in a statement as “an important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel,” adding, “We will continue to strengthen Israel’s standing in the world.”

As part of the upgraded ties, both countries said they would soon exchange ambassadors and consuls general, though no timeline was provided.

Cavusoglu said in his interview Tuesday that he would be presenting to Erdogan a candidate for ambassador to Israel in the “coming days.”

Abbas is due to meet Erdogan later on Tuesday on his second visit to Turkey in a year. The veteran Palestinian leader’s visit is widely seen as an attempt by Turkey to show that its moves to repair relations with Israel did not come at the expense of its support for the Palestinian cause.

Israel was a long-time regional ally of Turkey, before a 2010 commando raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, part of a blockade-busting flotilla, left 10 Turkish activists dead after they attacked Israeli soldiers who boarded the ship.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shows the way to President Isaac Herzog during a welcome ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Despite an official apology by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Erdogan maintained his rage, accusing the Jewish state of “keeping Hitler’s spirit alive” during Operation Defensive Shield in July 2014 and calling it a “terrorist state.”

Relations later improved somewhat, but both countries withdrew their ambassadors after Erdogan in 2018 leveled charges of “state terrorism” and “genocide” at Israel when dozens of Palestinians were killed in Gaza rioting in May of that year, after then-US president Donald Trump controversially moved the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Amid diplomatic signals this year indicating Erdogan was seeking détente with Israel, Herzog visited Ankara on an official trip in March and was welcomed in the capital by a full military procession.

Erdogan has likely been seeking to thaw relations with Israel to reduce Turkey’s growing political and economic isolation. The Turkish currency has plummeted in recent years, leaving Turkey in economic turmoil with an election slated for 2023.

Ash Obel and AFP contributed to this report.

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