Turkey's first ambassador to Israel since Gaza flotilla crisis takes office

The new Turkish envoy to Israel officially starts his tenure Monday with an event that was marked by a ceremony held in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin.

By
December 12, 2016 11:56
3 minute read.

Turkish ambassador to Israel takes up post, in reciprocal move

Turkish ambassador to Israel takes up post, in reciprocal move

Kemal Okem, a former foreign policy chief adviser to Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, on Monday presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, along with the letter of recall of his predecessor, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, who left Israel more than six years ago.

Okem was the fourth of five new envoys to present their credentials. The first three were women: Helene Le Gal of France, Deborah Lyons of Canada and Sara Angelina Solis Castaneda of Guatemala. They were followed by nonresident Ambassador Sman Manan of Cambodia, who is stationed in Cairo.

In his welcome address to Okem, Rivlin termed the exchange of ambassadors with Turkey “a real moment in history.” At the conclusion of the ceremony, he demonstrated the importance of normalization of relations with Turkey by escorting Okem, his wife and sons, to their car – a courtesy he did not extend to other ambassadors.

Okem was also smiling and friendly and exchanged a few words with those on the reception line.

Both he and Rivlin agreed that the countries’ reconciliation was the beginning of a promising page in the relationship.

At the onset, Rivlin expressed condolences to the Turkish people and to victims of the recent terrorist attack in Istanbul, as well as to those who lost loved ones.

“All life is sacred,” he said. “Terror is terror is terror, whether in Brussels or Paris, Istanbul, Jerusalem or Cairo. We have a duty to stand together against this terrible threat.”

He also voiced his appreciation to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Turkey’s help in fighting the fires across Israel last month.

Rivlin said regarding the reconciled relationship: “We must work together, to promote our economic relations, trade and energy cooperation, as a real engine of growth for our friendship.”

In a changing Middle East, “We must find the way to give strength to the voices of peace and stability. We must strengthen our common ground,” he said.

On a more sensitive subject, Rivlin thanked Erdogan for his commitment to help return the bodies of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.

Israel, like Turkey, places great importance in rebuilding the lives of the civilians in Gaza, he said, adding, “This must be with the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority. It is also an important way to show that we can live together in this region. Israel and Turkey share a desire for peace and prosperity for all the peoples of the Middle East.”

Turkey condemns all forms of terrorism, regardless of origin or target, Okem said, and added that he sees both challenges and big opportunities in his new role.

He pledged to follow the instructions of his president and prime minister to explore all opportunities that will be of mutual benefit to both countries, and expressed hope that such actions would work for the benefit of the Palestinians as well.

Also present was Joseph Ciechanover, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, who represented Israel on the United Nations review panel which investigated Israel’s actions against the Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza in May, 2010.

Rivlin credited Ciechanover with being instrumental in facilitating reconciliation between Turkey and Israel.

Rivlin thanked Le Gal for France’s role in Israel’s security, recalling when the first French Mirage fighter jets came to Israel.

Rivlin met Lyons during Canadian Governor General David Johnston’s state visit last month, and when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the funeral of Shimon Peres in September. He met Casteneda last month during Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’s state visit to Israel.


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