Turkey normalizing relations with Israel would not mean a change in Ankara's Palestine policy, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Thursday.
Speaking to public broadcaster TRT Haber, Çavuşoğlu drew attention to comments he made earlier this week that Turkey will not turn its back on its commitment to a Palestinian state in order to broker closer ties with Israel.
Mentioning that a fresh dialogue has started with the new government in Israel, Çavuşoğlu stated that the new foreign minister, who is also the head of the party with the most seats in the Parliament, also said that he believes in a two-state solution.
Çavuşoğlu underlined that the steps taken regarding the new dialogue process with Israel do not mean "giving up on the Palestinian cause".
"Normalizing our relations with Israel does not mean giving up on fundamental issues such as the Jerusalem cause and the Palestinian cause," Çavuşoğlu said:
"We will not normalize our relations at the expense of the Palestinian cause. Israel knows this very well. Can we now say 'yes' to the occupation and destruction of Palestinian homes there? No, our policy on this issue is very clear. As a country that has contact with both sides on the path to a two-state solution, we can contribute as we did in the past."
"Any step we take with Israel regarding our relations, any normalization, will not be at the expense of the Palestinian cause, like some other countries," Çavuşoğlu earlier this week told reporters in Ankara, referring to the rapprochement between Israel and some Gulf countries that has angered Turkey.
"Our position there is always clear," he added. "These ties normalizing a bit more may increase Turkey's role regarding a two-state solution as well, as a country that will be in touch with both countries, but we will never turn back on our core principles."
Gulf states that have established ties with Israel have sought to reassure Palestinians that their countries are not abandoning the quest for statehood, despite Palestinian leaders having decried the deals as a betrayal of their cause.
Ties between Turkey and Israel froze over after the death of 10 civilians in an Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla carrying aid for the Gaza Strip in 2010. The two countries once again expelled their ambassadors in 2018 after another bitter falling-out and relations since remained tense. In recent months, however, the two countries have been working on a rapprochement.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said Israeli President Isaac Herzog would visit Turkey in mid-March, the first such trip in years, adding the two countries could discuss energy cooperation.
Erdoğan said last month in an interview with Turkey's NTV channel that "This visit could open a new chapter in relations between Turkey and Israel and that he was "ready to take steps in Israel's direction in all areas, including natural gas."
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.
While Erdoğan has communicated with Herzog before amid the tensions, the Israeli presidency is a largely ceremonial role. In November, he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the first such call in years.
Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said on Monday there was a "positive approach" from Israel since the formation of their new government, while Bennett told reporters "things are happening very slowly and gradually" when asked about the possible visit to Turkey.
Turkey is making an effort to mend its frayed ties through intensified diplomacy with regional powers, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, after years of tensions. Erdoğan earlier reiterated that Turkey hopes to maximize cooperation with Egypt and Gulf nations "on a win-win basis."
Çavuşoğlu also criticized Greece for militarizing islands close to Turkey's mainland. "If Greece does not give up on this (armament of the islands), the sovereignty of these islands will be discussed," he said.
Reminding that Turkey sent two letters to the United Nations because Greece violated the status of the demilitarized islands in the Aegean, Çavuşoğlu stated that they would follow up on this matter.
Çavuşoğlu emphasized that these islands were given to Greece with the Lausanne and Paris Peace Agreements on condition that they would be disarmed, and underlined that Greece began to violate this in the 1960s.
When asked whether Turkey would open the sovereignty of the islands to discussion if there was no response from the U.N. to Turkey's letter and if Greece continued to violate it, Çavuşoğlu said, "Of course, we will. There are parties to these agreements. Lausanne Agreement, Paris Peace Agreement... Of course, we will start this discussion on the international platform."
The two neighbors, allies in NATO, are at odds over a number of issues such as competing claims over jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, air space, energy, the ethnically split island of Cyprus and the status of islands in the Aegean Sea.