Turkey and Israel to boost ties after ‘frank’ Jerusalem talks

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visits Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem - AP (2022)

Rosie Scammell

The National  /  May 25, 2022

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit to the city is the first by such a high-level Turkish official in 15 years.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday said his country would boost ties with Israel, after “candid and frank” talks in Jerusalem.

“We agreed that despite our differences, the continuation of a sustainable dialogue will be beneficial,” Mr Cavusoglu said after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

The visit is the first by such a high-level Turkish official to Jerusalem in 15 years, a period in which Ankara twice recalled its diplomats over the deaths of civilians at the hands of Israeli forces.

Mr Cavusoglu said the two countries would boost trade and economic ties in areas including agriculture and aviation, such as allowing Israeli passenger planes to fly to Turkish destinations.

The bilateral talks did not result in the two sides reinstating ambassadors, who were expelled in 2018 as Ankara protested against the killing by Israeli forces of Palestinians taking part in Gaza border protests.

Mr Lapid said the two sides “have always known how to return to dialogue and co-operation”.

“We won’t pretend that our relationship has not seen its up and downs,” he said.

Turkey previously cut ties with Israel after its forces stormed a vessel which was leading a flotilla to the blockaded Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish civilians were killed in the 2010 raid. A 10th died in hospital after being in a coma for four years.

“The goal is to form and expand economic and civil co-operation between our two countries,” in addition to strengthening security ties, Mr Lapid said.

Mr Cavusoglu’s talks with Israeli officials came a day after he met the Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, where he pledged Turkey’s support for “the Palestinian cause”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly criticized Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, last month condemning Israeli “interventions” against Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Israeli forces used rubber bullets in confrontations with worshippers at the mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

During Wednesday’s talks, Mr Cavusoglu said he shared concerns about Jerusalem and Al-Alqsa.

“We believe that normalisation of our ties will also have a positive impact on the peaceful resolution of the conflict,” he said.

Mr Cavusoglu later made a private visit to Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam.

He prayed at the compound and was accompanied by officials from the Waqf, the religious authority that administers the site.

Jordan serves as custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque, although Israel has controlled access to the area since its military took control of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The compound housing the mosque is also sacred to Jews, who are allowed to visit the site but not pray there.

Rosie Scammell is The National’s Jerusalem correspondent