Turkey says rapprochement with Israel will benefit Palestinians

Turkey's Foreign Minister has travelled to Israel with the aim of bringing closer ties and boosting cooperation in various sectors, including energy
AFP/ADEM ALTAN - El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Turquía, Mevlut Cavusoglu

AFP/ADEM ALTAN  -   Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu has travelled to Israel with the aim of forging closer ties after several clashes in the past over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the framework of improving bilateral relations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog to Ankara in March. This visit, as well as Cavusoglu's trip to Israel, is part of Turkey's new foreign policy to strengthen regional alliances.

Cavusoglu's visit is the first trip to Israel by a Turkish foreign minister in 15 years. On his first day, the Turkish Foreign Minister travelled to the West Bank, where he met with Palestinian officials. In Ramallah, he spoke with his Palestinian counterpart, Riad al-Malki, to whom he assured that Turkish support for the Palestinian cause "is totally independent of the course of relations with Israel", according to EFE. Cavusoglu also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

On his second day, Cavusoglu visited the Holocaust History Museum (Yad Vashem), where he laid a wreath and signed the museum's memorial book. He then met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, with whom he discussed progress towards reconciliation between the two countries

AFP/ EMMANUEL DUNAND  -   El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores israelí, Yair Lapid
AFP/ EMMANUEL DUNAND - Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid

The Israeli diplomat pointed to the objective of "expanding economic and civil cooperation" between the countries. "Beyond diplomacy, Minister, Israelis simply love Turkey," Lapid said, referring to the thousands of Israelis who choose Turkey as a tourist destination, according to The Times of Israel.

In this context, the two ministers agreed to work on a new civil aviation agreement that would allow Israeli airlines to fly to Turkey again, as the companies were barred in 2007 after Turkey refused to adapt to Israel's special security requirements, the Israeli newspaper notes. Turkish Airlines, on the other hand, is Israel's largest carrier after El Al. 

AFP/ JACK GUEZ  -   Las aerolíneas israelíes, Israir, El Al y Arkia prestarán servicio a varias ciudades marroquíes, incluida Marrakech, a partir del 25 de julio de 2021
AFP/ JACK GUEZ -A new civil aviation agreement between Turkey and Israel would allow Israeli airlines to fly to Turkey again.

The Turkish-Israeli partnership also seeks to "create business-to-business and people-to-people ties, and to take advantage of the comparative advantages of our two countries regionally and globally," Lapid added. This partnership can also extend to other areas such as security and defence. On this point, Lapid alluded to the recent wave of terrorist attacks in the country, which have claimed the lives of 19 Israelis. "We expect our friends to cooperate with us in this battle," he said. 

However, the Israeli minister also acknowledged the "ups and downs" in relations, although he also recalled that Turkey was the first Muslim nation to recognise Israel in 1949, just one year after the creation of the Jewish state. For this reason, both countries have always known how to "return to dialogue and cooperation".

"Today, we are initiating a new framework for improving our relations from which not only we, but also our children, will benefit in the years to come," Lapid concluded.

Shlomi Amsalem/Government Press Office via AP - El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Israel, Yair Lapid, habla durante la inauguración de la embajada de Israel en Abu Dhabi, Emiratos Árabes Unidos
Shlomi Amsalem/Government Press Office via AP - Lapid has acknowledged that relations between Israel and Turkey have suffered "ups and downs".

Cavusoglu, for his part, assured that the normalisation of relations with Israel "will have a positive impact on the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". In this sense, the Turkish minister pointed to his country as a possible moderator "to continue efforts towards dialogue". Regarding its ties with Israel, the diplomat noted that the "trade volume between Turkey and Israel exceeded $8 billion last year", while the figures for the first quarter of this year are "very promising", reports TRT. 

Cavusoglu has pledged to increase this trade and economic cooperation as it is "mutually beneficial". Within the bilateral partnership he also highlighted tourism, saying that Istanbul was the most popular destination for Israeli tourists but that he hoped "to receive more visits in different parts of the country". 

PHOTO/PAVEL GOLOVKIN vía REUTERS - El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Turquía, Mevlut Cavusoglu
PHOTO/PAVEL GOLOVKIN vía REUTERS - Cavusoglu underlined the large volume of trade between Turkey and Israel

Due to the economic crisis plaguing the country, Ankara emphasises the economic sphere in relations with new allies such as Jerusalem. As analysts have pointed out to AFP, Erdogan remains supportive of the Palestinian cause, but also wants to improve relations with Israel to boost Turkey's economy, including through joint gas initiatives. Cavusoglu has therefore travelled to Israel together with Energy Minister Fatih Donmez.

Donmez's presence reflects Erdogan's aspirations to build a gas pipeline with Israel to Europe amid the Ukraine-Russia war. During Herzog's visit to Ankara, the Turkish leader said he was 'ready to cooperate with Israel on energy and energy security', as the Eurasian country 'has the experience and capacity to implement such projects'. 

AFP PHOTO/Turkish Presidential Press Service/Mustafa KAMACI  -   El presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, estrecha la mano a su homólogo israelí Isaac Herzog tras una rueda de prensa conjunta en Ankara
AFP PHOTO/Turkish Presidential Press Service/Mustafa KAMACI - Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Isaac Herzog after a joint press conference in Ankara

However, this initiative does not meet with Israel's approval. "For some, Erdogan is not a reliable partner," Gabi Mitchell, an attaché at the Mitvim Institute, which specialises in Israel's regional policy, told AFP. Mitchell reminds us that in energy matters, countries must "trust each other".

The pipeline would also cross the eastern Mediterranean, a region over which Turkey has a strong rivalry with Cyprus and Greece. For this reason, this project is not in Israel's interest, as it "could damage its relations" with these nations. 

AFP/ADEM ALTAN  -   El presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, habla durante una conferencia de prensa
AFP/ADEM ALTAN - Erdogan hopes to cooperate with Israel on energy issues

Israel and Turkey still need to resolve certain issues in order to consolidate this rapprochement, both commercially and politically. During the meeting, the ministers did not discuss the possible return of their respective ambassadors, who were recalled after clashes on the Gaza border in 2018.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza and maintains a significant presence in Turkey, was also not mentioned. In this regard, Israel has reportedly asked Ankara - which has supported the organisation in recent years - to expel some of its members as a condition for reviving relations.