New Turkish Ambassador to Israel Hopes Reconciliation Will Also Benefit Palestinian Lives

Kemal Okem, the first ambassador to Israel in five years, presents his credentials President Reuven Rivlin.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the United Solidarity and Brotherhood rally in Gaziantep, Turkey, August 28, 2016.
Umit Bektas, Reuters

The new Turkish ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem, presented his credentials on Monday to President Reuven Rivlin. Okem, who is Turkey’s first ambassador to Israel in five years, said at the festive ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem that he hopes that reconciliation between Turkey and Israel and cooperation between the two countries will also improve the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

“Turkey and Israel will work together to use the opportunities and face challenges,” Okem said. “We will explore all the opportunities of cooperation. I will do my best to enhance our relations regardless of any difficulty we might face, and we will deal with it together.”

President Rivlin welcomed the new ambassador and said he hopes the reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey and the appointment of ambassadors will open a new and promising page in relations between the two countries. Rivlin condemned the terror attack in Istanbul, thanked Turkish President Erdogan for the assistance Turkey provided in putting out Israel’s wave of fires and expressed admiration for Turkish assistance in the attempt to return the bodies of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.

“We must find the way to strengthen the voices calling for peace and stability,” said Rivlin. “When I spoke recently with President Erdogan, we discussed the situation in the Gaza Strip. Israel, like Turkey, sees great importance in rehabilitating the lives of Gaza residents, rehabilitating infrastructure, the economy, energy and water. This has to be done in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.”

Okem, who served until his current appointment as foreign policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, arrived in Israel over the weekend. Turkey recalled the previous ambassador in September 2011, downgrading diplomatic relations, in response to the UN Secretary General’s report that Israel had violated international law when it took control of the Turkish flotilla to Gaza in May 2010.

Okem’s arrival in Israel is one of the final stages in the process of normalization between Israel and Turkey following the reconciliation agreement signed a few months ago. The new Israeli ambassador, Eitan Na’eh, arrived in Ankara last week. As part of the agreement, Israel put $20 million into a humanitarian fund set up by the Turkish government to compensate families of Turkish citizens killed by Israeli commandos when they seized the Mavi Marmara. Similarly, a court in Istanbul over the weekend closed the case against Israeli military officers who were involved in commanding the takeover operation of the Turkish flotilla.