At UN, Israeli, Turkish Leaders Meet for First Time Since 2008

Israeli PM Yair Lapid met with Turkey's Erdogan on sidelines of United Nations General Assembly

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Prime Minister Yair Lapid, left, meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 20, 2022
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, left, meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 20, 2022Credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid met on Tuesday evening with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the first time that leaders of the two countries have held face-to-face talks since 2008. As foreign minister, Lapid met with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu in June.

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Speaking at the UN on Tuesday, Erdogan addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, urging a resolution through the two-state solution and an end to "the illegal settlements in the occupied territories."

"We are going to contribute our effort for that to be possible," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey also believes that diplomacy and dialogue is needed to "settle the disputes about Iran's nuclear program."

Lapid also met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. According to report, the Israeli leader told Guterres that he expects a change in the anti-Israel sentiment prevalent at the United Nations.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, Lapid met with Jordan's King Abdullah, just hours after the widespread clashes between residents of Nablus and Palestinian Authority security forces the same day.

"The Prime Minister spoke with the King of Jordan about the need to calm the area, and to curb terrorism ahead of the events of the holidays," Lapid's spokesperson said against the backdrop of Israel's growing concern over the Palestinian Authority's loss of control over the West Bank.

The meeting comes as part of the prime minister's attempts to strengthen ties following surprise criticism by the Jordanian king last April over Israel's conduct on the Temple Mount, taking Israeli officials off guard. This is the second meeting between the two since July 2022, when they met in Amman.

Israeli sources told Haaretz that Lapid informed the king that the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is expected to peak during the approaching holidays, telling him that he expected the Jordanians to back them and prevent incitement.

Abdullah met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier on Tuesday, and senior Palestinian officials emphasized the importance of their meeting with Abdullah before he met with Lapid, without elaborating.

In recent weeks, Israel has worked alongside several other regional powers to encourage Abbas to bring quiet to the West Bank. Israel has engaged Qatar in contacts, even though the two don't have official ties. The American envoy to the Middle East, Barbara Leaf, also held a series of meetings with Israeli security officials, including the head of the Mossad, the head of the National Security Agency as well as with senior Palestinian officials to try to prevent a deterioration in the situation in the West Bank.

In his speech to the UN, Lapid is also expected to mention the possible nuclear agreement between Iran and the powers. “The voice of the State of Israel will be heard on this platform, our right to security and our aspiration for peace, as well as Israel’s contribution to regional stability and international cooperation,” Lapid said before departing.

Warming ties with Ankara

The Foreign Ministry announced on Monday – in advance of the meeting with Erdogan – the appointment of Irit Lillian as the new ambassador to Ankara. Lapid and Erdogan agreed last month to return the ambassadors and consul generals to the two nations and the restoration of diplomatic relations. In 2018, Turkey ordered the Israeli ambassador in Ankara to leave the country, after the killing of Palestinian protestors by IDF soldiers along the border with the Gaza Strip.

Lillian, who is the charge d’affaires of Israel in the embassy in Turkey today, was a key figure in strengthening the ties between the two countries over the past few months. She was behind the negotiations for the release of the Oknin family, who were arrested in November after taking a photograph that included Erdogan’s palace in Istanbul – where photography is forbidden.

Lapid is also scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. On Wednesday, Lapid is expected to meet with the new prime minister of the United Kingdom, Liz Truss, for the first time in her new position. Truss – who is considered a friend of Israel – has warm relations with Lapid from the time that they both served as foreign ministers.

During his visit to New York, Lapid is also scheduled to participate in a festive dinner held by the Friends of the IDF in the United States, which raises donations for the welfare of IDF soldiers. Lapid will also meet with members of the Jewish community.

Lapid’s speech at the UN, close to the upcoming election in Israel, is intended mostly for Israeli ears. The possibility that Iran and the United States will soon return to the nuclear deal, in spite of all the disagreements between the two countries, is expected to be one of the major points in his speech. In recent years, Israeli prime ministers have used the forum at the General Assembly to reveal up-to-date details about Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts, and its attempts to conduct terrorist operations through the use of proxy organizations in the region.

Lapid is also expected to address at length relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Last year, then Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ignored the Palestinian issue in his speech to the General Assembly, and spoke mostly about the coronavirus pandemic and Iran. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is also scheduled to speak at the UN.

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