ANKARA: Mevlut Cavusoglu’s trip to Israel this week will make him the first Turkish foreign minister to visit the country in 15 years – the latest step in a rapprochement between the countries after years of stormy ties.
Cavusoglu, who is expected to be accompanied by energy minister Fatih Donmez, is scheduled to meet his counterpart Yair Lapid on Wednesday, a day after holding talks with Palestinian officials. Energy sector cooperation is expected to top the agenda, with Ankara expressing its willingness for a partnership between Israel and Turkey in a project that could carry Israeli natural gas to Turkey, and then potentially on to Europe.
But a wider issue is also expected to be discussed – the re-establishment of diplomatic ties at the ambassador level, after Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador in 2018, following the Israeli killing of almost 60 Palestinians in protests against the opening of a United States embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. –Agencies
That was the culmination of a continuing period of poor relations, which had been difficult since the late 2000s. The two countries traded frequent accusations over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and treatment of Palestinians, as well as Ankara’s support for Hamas, which governs the blockaded Gaza Strip.
They have also disagreed over various other regional issues, such as the 2013 coup in Egypt, the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, the 2019 withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Turkey’s military operations in the same country.
Yet it appears as if the two sides are willing to overlook this. In March, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who predominantly holds a ceremonial position, made a landmark visit to the Turkish capital, Ankara – the first such visit since Shimon Peres’ trip in 2007.
Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan both said they wanted to normalise ties, with Erdogan also stressing the importance of energy cooperation between the governments going forward.
Phone conversations and letters between the two leaders have followed since, despite Erdogan’s often forthright public condemnation of Israeli actions against the Palestinians.
Taha Ozhan, the former chairman of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that Turkey and Israel’s current goal is to establish efficient diplomatic ties again and see if it is possible to work together in certain areas thereafter.
“Turkey and Israel are aware that there is a need for them to talk to each other over regional issues, from Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean to issues related to the Arabian Gulf,” Ozhan, who is also an academic at the Ankara Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“However, much more time is needed for them to establish trust and work together in foreign policy areas, amid so many disagreements and considering the situation of Palestinians is only getting worse,” Ozhan said.
He added: “Restoring diplomatic relations might be an initial step for more dialogue and eventually lead to establishment of a positive policy agenda and deeper ties. No one should expect a shortcut to normalisation … especially during the election year in Turkey.”