After Years Of Bad Blood, Israel And Turkey See New Beginning In Relations
Israel and Turkey have announced a new era in relations following more than 10 years of diplomatic rupture. As such Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the Turkish capital, Ankara, and held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday 9.
Erdogan described the Israeli president’s visit as “historic” and “a turning point” in Turkish-Israeli relations while announcing that the country was ready to cooperate with Israel in the energy sector. It is expected that the Turkish foreign and energy ministers will soon visit Israel for more talks.
Although they share common interests, both leaders explained that differences remain, especially regarding the Palestinians. Turkey has close ties with Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and despite toning down its criticism of Israel, has ruled out abandoning its commitment to supporting Palestinian statehood.
“We expressed the importance we attach to reducing tensions in the region and preserving the vision of a two-state solution,” Erdogan said. “I underlined the importance we attach to the historical status of Jerusalem and the preservation of the religious identity and sanctity of Masjid Aqsa,” he added. This is the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s historic Old City, which is frequently the target of attacks by Israelis who want it as a Jewish temple.
In this regard, disagreements should be resolved “with mutual respect and openness, through the proper mechanisms and systems, with a view to a shared future,” Herzog stated.
Revitalizing the relationship
This visit comes at a time when Turkey is worried about economic troubles and has been trying to end its international isolation by improving strained ties with countries in the region, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
The meeting is mostly ceremonial and any concrete steps toward building the relationship will require the approval of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Nevertheless, it marks the first visit since 2007 made by an Israeli president to Turkey.
The relationship between both countries turned sour after the death of 10 civilians in an Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla trying to breach an Israeli blockade on besieged Gaza by carrying aid into the territory in 2010.
Then in 2016 a reconciliation agreement saw the return of ambassadors but collapsed in 2018 in the wake of the Great March of Return protests. More than 200 Palestinians were killed by Israel when they protested to return to their homes in present-day Israel from where they were ethnically cleansed in 1948. They also called for an end to the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel.
After Herzog’s visit, some protests broke out in Ankara, Istanbul, and other Turkish cities. Some protesters were holding pictures of the activists killed on the Mavi Marmara and chanted slogans against the US and Israel. One of them read out a statement saying, “we will not forget the tens of thousands of Palestinian martyrs… in the name of the sanctity of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque we must fight this visit, which is a step towards normalizing relations with Israel”.
Following this meeting, The Times of Israel reported that Turkey had agreed to return a 2,700-year-old Siloam inscription to Israel as a kind gesture. The archaeological piece is in Istanbul Archaeological Museum and is considered one of the oldest and most important Hebrew inscriptions in existence.
The Daily Sabah has reported that Turkish officials deny this.
Diplomatic sources told Anadolu Agency on Sunday that east Jerusalem, where the inscription was found in 1880, was part of Ottoman territories back then and it is currently a part of Palestinian territories; thus, it was out of the question to return it to Israel, the third country in Turkey’s view.
The inscription is a text recording the work to construct a tunnel between the Pool of Siloam and the City of David during the reign of King Hezekiah, a ruler of Jerusalem according to Tanakh or Hebrew Bible.