image Photo: Flash90, Reuters

Turks in Israel ahead of Herzog visit

A team of senior officials from Ankara have traveled to the region ahead of the slated visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Turkey.

By Erin Viner

The Turkish delegation includes Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal and President Recep Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s chief foreign policy advisor İbrahim Kalın.

The team’s visit comes as part of Ankara’s attempted rapprochement with Jerusalem following a years-long diplomatic rift, as well as the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet Palestinian officials including President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Turkish Foreign ministry said.

“We are here to meet with both Palestinian and Israeli authorities,” said Kalin upon arrival at the Turkish Consulate in Jerusalem, adding, “We will discuss steps towards solutions to the Palestinian issue as well as steps in the normalization process of Turkish-Israeli relations.”

Israel and Turkey expelled respective ambassadors from the other’s country in 2018. While ties have since then remained tense, Ankara embarked in 2020 on a so-called charm offensive to mend strained relations with several regional nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in addition to Israel. The effort has so far yielded measured success with Abu Dhabi, although little public progress has been reached with Cairo, Riyadh or Jerusalem to date.

Despite intense rhetoric against Israel vis-à-vis its presence in Judea and Samaria, economically-challenged Turkey maintains its wish to repair its once-strong alliance with the Jewish State.

Ankara has long expressed support for a Two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, issued blistering condemnation of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and backed the Islamist Hamas terrorist rulers of Gaza who are committed to Israel’s destruction.

Israeli President Herzog is slated to visit Turkey on 9-10 March.

Erdoğan, who has held telephone conversations with his Israeli counterpart for the first time in years, has expressed his hope that discussion during the visit will include dispute over energy resources in the east Mediterranean Sea. Discussion of a possible visit by Herzog was initiated during a trip to Ankara by Israeli Ministry of Foreign Director General Alon Ushpiz in December 2021.

The Turkish leader has also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett following years of silence with former leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has nevertheless made public assurances that his nation will never relinquish its support of the Palestinians or their cause despite the diplomatic overtures toward Israel.

A joint press release by the Israeli President’s Office and the MFA obtained by TV7 confirmed that the Turkish delegation met with Foreign Ministry Director General Ushpiz, CEO of the President’s Office Eyal Shviki and their respective teams.

According to the statement, the parties at both the MFA and the President’s Residence discussed preparations for Herzog’s visit to Turkey, bilateral ties and various regional issues.

Both sides “have agreed that the rehabilitation of relations can contribute to regional stability,” said the statement, adding that during meeting at the President’s Residence, President Herzog entered the conference room to personally welcome the delegation.