'There is a new momentum in our relations in this moment'

Turkish foreign minister says ties with Israel dependent on Palestinian rights

Speaking to Israeli journalists, Mevlut Cavusoglu says Ankara expects Jerusalem to respect international law for ‘sustainable’ relationship, hopes for return of Israeli tourists

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to the media, in Ankara, Turkey, November 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to the media, in Ankara, Turkey, November 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ANKARA —  Turkey’s foreign minister said Wednesday that Ankara is seeking a “sustainable relationship” with Israel, but those ties depend on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

“We are seeking to establish a sustainable relationship,” said Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking to Israeli journalists in Ankara at the Turkish Foreign Ministry. “Since 1949, our relations have had its ups and downs. I can tell you that those were due to the violations of Palestinian rights, and not due to the problems in our bilateral relations.”

“We expect from the Israeli side to respect the international law on the Palestinian issue for a sustainable relationship,” he stressed.

Turkey has for years been a strident critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and Jerusalem accuses Ankara of being a key haven for the Hamas terror group, creating friction between the allies. Though ties were strained for years earlier, diplomatic relations between the sides were not officially downgraded until after the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid, in which 10 Turkish nationals on a ship attempting to bust the naval blockade around Gaza were killed in a clash with Israeli troops who boarded their vessel.

Cavusoglu said that Israel and Turkey have common interests and that Turkey is “ready to develop bilateral cooperation and regional dialogue through a positive agenda.”

He pointed out the potential for cooperation in energy, trade, investment, science and technology, agriculture and food security.

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

“There is a new momentum in our relations at this moment,” the foreign minister said, pointing at President Isaac Herzog’s March visit, and the November phone call between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

“President Erdogan reiterated our support for a two-state solution,” said Cavusoglu. “He expressed our expectations on Palestine during President Herzog’s visit.”

“It was a very candid meeting.”

The foreign minister is expected to visit Israel next month.

He spoke to Israeli journalists in Turkey on a three-day trip fully funded by Ankara’s Directorate of Communications, which is part of the president’s office.

Cavusoglu noted that Erdogan condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Israel, and the killing of a Palestinian woman by Israeli forces near Bethlehem on Sunday.

He waxed nostalgic about encountering Israeli tourists in his home city of Alanya, and said that he hopes “this year we are going to host more Israeli tourists in Turkey.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, on January 22, 2022. (Adem Altan/AFP)

Once friendly allies, ties between Israel and Turkey have been all but frozen for over a decade.

During that time, Turkey was one of Israel’s most bitter critics on the international stage. Angry rhetoric and name-calling from top officials on both sides, led by Erdogan and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, became a regular feature of the relationship.

For the past two years, however, Erdogan has struck a noticeably different tone toward Israel, expressing interest in improving ties with his erstwhile and possibly future ally.

In the last several months, Erdogan has regularly spoken about his desire for a closer relationship.

In a November phone call with Herzog after intervening to free an Israeli couple arrested in Turkey as suspected spies, Erdogan stressed that he views ties with Israel as important to his country and “of key importance to the peace, stability, and security of the Middle East.”

Erdogan also said he sought a comprehensive dialogue between the countries on bilateral and regional issues.

Bennett thanked Erdogan by phone as well after the couple was freed, and in late March the Turkish president said Bennett might soon visit the country. The Prime Minister’s Office denied that any plans were in place, but it is clear that both sides see such a visit as the final step on the way to fully restored ties.

Turkey’s public interest in improving ties with Israel is part of a broader trend, in which Ankara has sought to mend ties with regional rivals, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and European countries.

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