JERUSALEM: Israel and Turkiye announced the resumption of full diplomatic ties on Wednesday, following years of strained relations between the Mediterranean nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailed the diplomatic breakthrough as an “important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel”.

Lapid’s office said the diplomatic development will see ambassadors and consuls general posted to the two countries once more.

The announcement follows months of bilateral efforts to mend ties, with reciprocal visits by top officials.

Turkish FM says move should not be interpreted as Ankara ‘giving up on Palestinian cause’

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the return of ambassadors “is important to improve bilateral ties”. But he cautioned that closer ties with Israel should not be interpreted as Ankara “giving up on the Palestinian cause”.

Cavusoglu in May became the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Israel in 15 years, during a trip which also saw him meet the Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank.

During a landmark visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Ankara two months earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed their meeting marked “a turning point in our relations”.

Bilateral relations began to fray in 2008, following an Israeli military operation in Gaza. Relations then froze after the deaths of 10 civilians following an Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla trying to breach a blockade by carrying aid into Gaza in 2010.

A brief reconciliation lasted from 2016 until 2018, when ambassadors were withdrawn once again over the killing of Palestinians. More than 200 Gazans were shot dead by Israeli forces during border protests from 2018 to 2019.

‘Defend’ Palestinian rights

Reconciliation publicly got under way after Herzog took office in July 2021.

The Israeli president on Wednesday said the full renewal of ties “will encourage greater economic relations, mutual tourism, and friendship between the Israeli and Turkish peoples”.

Despite the diplomatic differences in recent years, trade had continued and Turkey has remained a popular destination for Israeli tourists.

Israel, however, warned its citizens to return home in June, citing an Iranian assassination plot against its nationals in Istanbul.

Lapid then thanked Ankara for its cooperation on the issue and Israelis swiftly resumed their Turkish holidays.

Israel has been wary of upsetting regional allies over its decision to strengthen ties with Turkey, with Herzog dispatched to Cyprus and Greece ahead of his Ankara trip.

Turkiye has meanwhile been keen to stress that its normalisation with Israel could yield benefits for the Palestinians. “As we have always said, we will continue to defend the rights of Palestinians,” Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.

As well as its relations with the Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank, Turkiye has also maintained ties with the Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza.

Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said observers should be “under no illusion” that bilateral ties will be as good as they were during the 1990s.

“As long as Erdogan is in power there will be a certain amount of hostility from Turkiye towards Israel, because of his Islamist connection. He will continue to support Hamas for instance,” he said.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza’s 2.3 million residents since 2007.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022

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