Wednesday , August 10 2022

Israel’s President Visits Turkey in Sign of Thawing Relations

That thaw did not last long.

In late 2017, when President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, relations took another downturn. Mr. Erdogan’s strong criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem has also proved a constant irritant. He has compared Israel to Nazi Germany and accused the Israelis of genocide after their forces killed scores of Palestinian protesters during clashes along the Gaza border fence in 2018, on the day that the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Yet bilateral trade and tourism have continued apace. Mr. Erdogan said on Wednesday that the volume of trade between the two countries reached $8.5 billion last year, and that he hoped it would reach $10 billion this year.

Mr. Erdogan has indicated a willingness for warmer ties since Israel’s new government formed last June, with Naftali Bennett replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, and since Mr. Herzog became president a month later.

Mr. Erdogan called Mr. Herzog to congratulate him when he entered office and the pair have spoken three times on the phone since. Mr. Herzog offered his well wishes to Mr. Erdogan last month after he contracted Covid, and in November 2021, thanked him for the release of an Israeli couple held for several days in a Turkish prison on suspicion of spying after they took photos of Mr. Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul. Mr. Erdogan also offered Mr. Herzog condolences when his mother, Aura Herzog, died in January.

Israel’s political leadership has been cautious in expressing optimism about a fresh start. Mr. Herzog said that his visit was fully coordinated with Mr. Bennett and Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, and that Israel would try to promote dialogue with Turkey and “examine it through deeds.”

Both sides have a clear interest in better ties, analysts say.

Mr. Erdogan, whose country is in the midst of a financial crisis, has repeatedly expressed a desire for Turkey to have a part in Israel’s lucrative natural gas discoveries in the Mediterranean, including a proposal to work with Israel in carrying its natural gas to Europe — an unlikely proposition for Israel.

“Turkey is extremely interested in getting a share of the Eastern Mediterranean gas bonanza,” said Dore Gold, an Israeli diplomat who is president of the Israeli think tank Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and who helped negotiate the 2016 reconciliation agreement with Turkey. “Israel has signed agreements for the development of the fields with Cyprus and other eastern Mediterranean states, but it has not done so with Turkey.”


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