Turkey's Top Diplomat Pledges Support for Palestinian Independence in West Bank Visit

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu begins two-day visit in Ramallah, and will spend Wednesday in Israel, in the first such visit in more than a decade

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Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (right) welcomes Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu ahead of a meeting in Ramallah, on Tuesday.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (right) welcomes Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu ahead of a meeting in Ramallah, on Tuesday.Credit: ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu voiced support for Palestinian independence in a statement Tuesday alongside Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki in Ramallah, at the start of the first visit by a senior Turkish official to Israel and the West Bank in more than a decade.

Speaking after meeting his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki in the West Bank city Ramallah, Cavusoglu said Turkish support for Palestine would not diminish even as once frozen relations with Israel thawed. "Our support for the Palestinian cause is completely independent from the course of our relations with Israel," he told reporters.

Cavusoglu emphasized Turkish support for the Palestinian struggle for self-determinatino and the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders - that is, the Green Line. He added that Israel's settlement policies severely undermine any opportunity for such establishment.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the meeting focused on what they characterized as general Israeli aggression against Palestinians, with emphasis on tensions in East Jerusalem in particular. Al-Malaki said Israel was continuing a policy of disconnecting East Jerusalem from Palestinians and of changing the status quo of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Cavusoglu said the events around Al-Aqsa mosque are painful for Muslims around the world.

Al-Malaki also emphasized the importance of the Turkish-Palestinian relationship in trade and the economy, noting that the Palestinian Authority and Turkey have signed 10 coooperation agreements.

Cavusoglu arrived on Tuesday for a two-day visit of Israel and the West Bank. He will meet with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Turkish minister will meet with Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Tourism Minister Yoel Rzvozov.

He is also slated to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City. The visit to Al-Aqsa, which was the epicenter of Israeli-Palestinian tensions and violence during Ramadan, was described as a private one, meaning Israel will not be involved in it.

Turkey has been critical of Israel's policies concerning the holy site, sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Cavusoglu said reports of the clashes had upset Turkey. "It is important for all Muslims that the sanctity and status of the Al-Aqsa is protected," he said.

This is the first official Turkish visit to Israel since a historic meeting between President Isaac Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara in March, which signaled a shift toward repairing bilateral relations.

"For over a year, there has been a gradual process of improved relations and confidence building," said Dr. Nimrod Goren, the founder and chairman of Mitvim – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

"After President Herzog's successful visit to Turkey, the Turkish foreign minister's visit to Israel puts the ball in the political court," he said. "The visit takes place after Israel and Turkey set aside controversies and sensitivities about the month of Ramadan, as well as about the wave of terror, something they didn't manage to do in the past."

Erdogan has been pushing for warmer relations with Israel for some time, including in public remarks. His diplomatic efforts, which also include moves to improve ties with Gulf states, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, come against the backdrop of Turkey's dire economic situation, with energy emerging as a key area for potential cooperation.

Israel's relations with Turkey have known many downfalls over the past decade. In May 2018, in protest over the killing of 61 Palestinians in clashes in the Gaza strip, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador. The Turkish ambassador left Israel following the incident as well.

Israel has been wary of Erdogan's statements, as he is known to be fickle in regard to Israel and has backed Palestinian groups, including Hamas.

"I have no illusions regarding Turkey," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Haaretz in January. "I have seen what happens during moments of crisis in Gaza. We know these dynamics well," he said.

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