Better Turkey-Israel ties depend on Palestinian issue - Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he "had talks with Israel in the past, but it needs to act more sensitively regarding Palestine."

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. (photo credit: PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020.
(photo credit: PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Turkey will improve its relations with Israel if it moves toward peace with the Palestinians, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

“I’d had talks with Israel in the past, but Israel needs to act more sensitively regarding its regional policies on Palestine,” Erdogan said, according to Daily Sabah.

Israel and Turkey can exchange ambassadors again if Israel changes course in areas Turkey views as red flags, the Turkish president said, referring specifically to Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque, the report said.

Speaking to reporters while on a visit to Qatar, Erdogan mentioned the United Arab Emirates’ steps to repair ties with Turkey.

“A similar process could happen with Israel, too; why not?” he said, adding that he favors regional peace.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020 (credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020 (credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Erdogan made a similar remark in a press conference last week, saying in response to a question about Israel and Egypt: “Whatever kind of step was taken with the UAE, we will also take similar ones with the others.”

Erdogan also held a rare phone call with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last month, and had his second call with President Isaac Herzog in several months after Turkey’s release of Natali and Mordy Oaknin, an Israeli couple detained for photographing Erdogan’s Istanbul residence.

“Differences of opinion can be minimized if acted with mutual understanding in both bilateral and regional issues,” the Turkish readout of the Erdogan-Herzog call stated.

Erdogan has made overtures toward Israel in the past year, which could be seen as a way for Turkey to get in on the natural gas developments in the region and improve its economy. In addition, improved ties with Israel could help repair bad relations between the Turkish president and US President Joe Biden, who has called Erdogan an autocrat.

Israel-Turkey ties hit a low point in 2010 when the Erdogan-linked IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) sent the Mavi Marmara ship to bust the IDF’s naval blockade of Gaza, arming some of the people aboard. IDF naval commandos stopped the ship, were attacked by IHH members aboard and killed nine of them.

Over the ensuing decade, Israel and Turkey maintained diplomatic relations, even reinstalling ambassadors in 2016, until Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador in 2018 over Israel’s response to rioting on the Gaza border.

In recent years, Turkey harbored Hamas terrorists and backed destabilizing activities in east Jerusalem, and Erdogan accused Israel of intentionally killing Palestinian children.

Meanwhile, Israel has developed close ties with Turkey’s historic adversaries Greece and Cyprus, especially in the areas of natural gas and defense.

The three countries held their eighth summit on Tuesday, which was the first with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The Greek and Cypriot leaders came out against Turkey’s “unacceptable provocations” in Cypriot land and maritime borders in a trilateral press statement during the summit.