With Israeli President Isaac Herzog's upcoming visit to Turkey and improvements in bilateral relations, further steps to solve the Palestine issue can be discussed, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday.
Addressing reporters during his Africa diplomacy tour, Erdoğan said that Turkey attaches great importance to Herzog's visit that will take place in early March.
He underlined that the progress made in Turkey-Israel relations with the upcoming visit will be reflected in other areas going forward, drawing special attention to the Palestinian issue. "In the Palestinian issue, especially in the steps taken regarding these constructions, solution points may come to the fore," he said.
"It is our hope that with this visit, we will take steps to strengthen this business. Another important issue here is that steps are taken in Turkey-Israel relations, from natural gas to many other issues. At one time, we came to the point of taking these steps, but with the negative view of the Israeli Prime Minister at that time, we could not continue that process. But at the moment, there may be many different developments."
Erdoğan also expressed his hope that cooperation between Turkey and Israel will pave the way for strengthened bilateral ties and turn the region into a geography of peace.
Most recently, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu discussed the upcoming visit of Herzog to Turkey in a phone call with Yair Lapid on Sunday. The phone call between the two top diplomats came after a high-level Turkish delegation led by Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın visited Israel on Thursday and met with Israeli officials ahead of Herzog’s visit. During the meeting, both parties have agreed that “the rehabilitation of relations can contribute to regional stability.”
“The parties discussed preparations for the visit of Herzog to Turkey, bilateral ties between the two countries, as well as various regional issues,” Herzog’s office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a joint statement.
“Turkey and Israel have broad influence in the region, and both have agreed that the rehabilitation of relations can contribute to regional stability,” the statement added.
Turkey is on a path toward normalizing ties with Israel and Ankara had stated it may mediate between Israel and Palestine. In steps toward a thaw in relations with Israel, Turkish officials have stressed that Turkey’s support for the Palestinian cause and a two-state solution remains as strong as ever. Turkey has frequently underlined that normalization with Israel will not be at the cost of Palestine.
Herzog’s trip is said to take place on March 9 and 10. Erdoğan has hailed the visit as an opportunity to “open a new chapter in relations between Turkey and Israel.”
Erdoğan earlier this month expressed Turkey’s interest in resuming talks with Israel on using its natural gas and transporting it to Europe. Turkey and Israel had previously attempted to cooperate on energy resources, but those talks had never moved very far.
Relations between Turkey and Israel hit a low in 2010 following an Israeli naval raid on a Turkish aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, en route to deliver humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip. The raid killed 10 activists. The event caused an unprecedented crisis in Turkish-Israeli relations that had been peaceful for decades. Both countries even recalled their diplomatic envoys following the incident.
In 2013, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to Turkey and the payment of $20 million (TL 272 million) in compensation to the Mavi Marmara victims, Turkish-Israeli relations entered a period of normalization. In December 2016, both countries reappointed ambassadors as part of the reconciliation deal and reiterated several times the necessity to further improve bilateral relations. The two countries once again expelled each other’s ambassadors in 2018 after another bitter falling out, and relations have since remained tense.
In recent months, however, the two countries have been working on a rapprochement with Erdoğan, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, holding telephone talks with his Israeli counterpart and other Israeli leaders. In November, Erdoğan also spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a rare exchange between the two countries, the first such contact between an Israeli prime minister and Erdoğan since 2013.
Despite the recent rapprochement, Turkish officials continue to criticize Israel’s policies targeting Palestinians, including the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Known for its unbreakable solidarity with the Palestinians, Turkey has been voicing support for the Palestinian cause in the international realm for decades. Turkish authorities emphasize that the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability in the Middle East is through a fair and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue within the framework of international law and United Nations resolutions.
Erdoğan also touched upon the normalization steps taken with Saudi Arabia and said that Ankara aims to improve bilateral relations with Riyadh.
Highlighting the recent diplomatic contacts between the two countries' senior officials, he said: "We wish to continue our positive dialogue and to advance our relations with concrete steps in the coming period."
Turkey is engaged in an effort to mend its frayed ties through intensified diplomacy with regional powers, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, after years of tensions. Erdoğan had reiterated that Turkey hopes to maximize cooperation with Egypt and Gulf nations "on a win-win basis."