Turkish Foreign Minister pays rare visit to Israel as nations tighten ties :: WRAL.com
JERUSALEM – Turkey’s foreign minister visited Israel on Wednesday as part of ongoing efforts to improve relations between the two countries, which have often been bitterly divided in recent years over Turkey’s support for the Palestinians.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, during the first official visit to Israel by a Turkish official in 15 years, says normalizing relations with Israel and settling disagreements in a “constructive way” will contribute to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the Middle East .
He prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, a major holy site amid recent unrest in the region. It is the third holiest site in Islam and is built on a hill which is the holiest site for the Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.
Cavusoglu said talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog had helped ease tensions in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended in early May.
“Working on a positive agenda can also help us settle our disagreements more constructively,” Cavusoglu told reporters.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, speaking at the same press conference, said the two countries “have always known how to return to dialogue and cooperation”.
“Nations with a long history always know how to close a chapter and open a new one. That’s what we’re doing here today,” he said.
Turkey, plagued by economic difficulties, is trying to break its international isolation by normalizing relations with several countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Cavusoglu also met with Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank, where he reiterated Turkey’s support for their fight for an independent state alongside Israel.
Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want the three territories to form their future state. There have been no serious peace talks for over a decade.
“We believe that the normalization of our relations will also have a positive impact on the peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Cavusoglu said.
He also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, on Wednesday.
Turkey and Israel were once close allies, but relations have become strained under Erdogan, who is a vocal critic of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. Turkey has also embraced the Islamic militant group Hamas, which Israel and Western countries consider a terrorist group.
The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007.
Nine Turkish militants were killed. Israel has apologized to Turkey for the deaths under a US-brokered deal, but reconciliation efforts have stalled.
Turkey recalled its ambassador in 2018 after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting Israel to respond accordingly. The two countries have not renewed their ambassadors.
The latest attempt at rapprochement was led by Herzog, Israel’s largely ceremonial president, who visited Turkey in March, becoming the first Israeli leader to do so in 14 years.
Herzog spoke Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the same annual gathering where Erdogan burst onto the stage after a scathing exchange with then-Israeli President Shimon Peres over Gaza in 2009.
Responding to questions after his speech, Herzog acknowledged that the process with Turkey was “not a Romeo and Juliet lullaby”, but based on mutual interests. He also referred to the previous exchange in Davos.
“We have ups and downs with Turkey,” Herzog said. “I am very happy to have an open and frank dialogue with President Erdogan which is going in the right direction.”
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.