Erdoğan and Herzog open a 'new era' in bilateral relations, but unresolved issues remain
The Israeli president today ended a “historic” two-day official visit to Turkey. Yesterday he met with the Turkish president, whilst today he visited the Jewish community in Istanbul. The two sides pledge to resolve differences in the future. The Palestinian question and the holy places in Jerusalem remain the main stumbling block. Europe looks to Israeli gas (via Turkey) to make up for the loss of Russian supplies.
Ankara (AsiaNews) – Turkey and Israel have completed the first stage of a process aimed at resuming relations and building a “new era” following years of tensions and diplomatic spates.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Yitskhak Herzog expressed optimism at the end of yesterday’s meeting in Ankara. This is the first official visit by an Israeli president to Turkey since Shimon Peres’s speech to Parliament 14 years ago, in 2007.
The Turkish leader described the visit s “historic” and as a “turning point” in bilateral relations with potential for greater cooperation, especially in the energy sector; however, major issues remain unresolved, first of all the Palestinian question, which could hinder the path of reconciliation.
“Our common goal is to revitalise political dialogue between our countries based on common interests and respect for mutual sensitivities,” Erdoğan said.
For Herzog, speaking in Hebrew, the visit was a “very important moment for the relations between our countries, and a great honour for the two of us to lay the foundations of developing friendly relations between our countries and nations, and to build bridges essential to us all”.
This morning, at the end of his two-day visit, the Israeli leader met with the Jewish community in Istanbul where he addressed the Neve Shalom synagogue, scene of terrorist attacks in the past.
Despite formal expression of optimism and basic cordiality, both leaders conceded that some issues remain unresolved and are still in the way of real change; first of all, the Palestinian question and the status of the holy places in Jerusalem.
in this regard Erdoğan stressed the importance of “reducing tensions" and “preserving the vision of a two-state solution”. The Turkish leader “underlined the importance we attach to the historical status of Jerusalem and the preservation of the religious identity and sanctity of Masjid Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Mosque)” in Jerusalem’s historic Old City, the third most sacred site in Islam after Makkah and Madinah.
In responding to his Turkish counterpart, President Herzog acknowledged that “We must agree in advance that we will not agree on everything, that is the nature of relations with a past as rich as our;” however, “the disagreements we will aspire to resolve with mutual respect and openness, through the proper mechanisms and systems, with a view to a shared future”.
Hovering over the background are the Palestinian question and the historical ties between Ankara and Hamas, the group currently ruling the Gaza Strip, labelled a "terrorist" organisation by both the United States and the European Union.
The lowest point in Turkish-Israeli relations came in 2010, following the death of 10 civilians – eight of them Turks – in the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, a ship that tried to break the Gaza blockade to bring aid.
A thaw began in 2016 after years of extremely cold relations with the return of their respective ambassadors; however, this ended abruptly two years later when more than 200 Palestinian were killed by Israel during months of protest linked to the “Great March of Return”.
The latest step towards rapprochement will no go before Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his cabinet.
Others could also benefit from the “new” era in Turkish-Israeli relations, including the Middle East and Europe, especially the latter, which is now in the middle of an energy crisis sparked by Russia’s war against Ukraine and the potential loss of Russian gas supplies.
Europe could gas from Israel and Turkey (as well as Azerbaijan), replacing Russia, which still remains – despite the war – one of its most important suppliers, especially Germany.
Until sufficient renewable energies are available to meet actual needs, fossil fuels will take the lion share. One alternative source is represented by Israeli gas reaching Europe through Turkey.
Israeli gas reserves are estimated at around 413 billion cubic metres, far above domestic demand, centred on the Eastern Mediterranean or EastMed project.
The latter, which includes offshore/onshore natural gas pipeline that would deliver Israeli gas to Europe via Cyprus and Greece, came to an abrupt halt in January when Washington pulled out citing feasibility concerns.
Now, the conflict in Ukraine has changed everything and made a Turkish route feasible thanks, in part, to substantially lower costs and the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement. Egypt, another major regional gas producer, might also be brought on board.