President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey would like to have better ties with Israel and that talks at intelligence level continue between the two sides, but has also criticised Israeli policy towards Palestinians as “unacceptable”.
Speaking to reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey had issues with “people at the top level” in Israel and that ties could have been “very different” if it were not for those issues.
“The Palestine policy is our red line. It is impossible for us to accept Israel’s Palestine policies. Their merciless acts there are unacceptable,” Erdogan said.
“If there were no issues at the top level, our ties could have been very different,” he added. “We would like to bring our ties to a better point.”
Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise Israel in 1949. They enjoyed warm relations and strong commercial ties until Erdogan’s rise to power.
In recent years, Ankara has repeatedly condemned Israel’s occupation in the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians.
Turkey first broke off diplomatic ties with Israel in 2010 after 10 pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed by Israeli commandos who boarded a Turkish-owned flotilla trying to deliver aid and break Israel’s years-long maritime blockade of Gaza.
The Israeli blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip has been in place since June 2007, when Israel imposed an airtight land, sea and air blockade on the area.
They restored ties in 2016, but relations soured again in 2018.
In May that year, Ankara withdrew its envoy over deadly attacks against Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip who were protesting against US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have often exchanged angry remarks, but both countries continue to trade with one another.
In August this year, Israel accused Turkey of giving passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul, describing the move as “a very unfriendly step” which his government would raise with Turkish officials.
Hamas seized the besieged Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Since then, Israel has severely intensified its siege and launched three protracted military assaults on Gaza.
Turkey says Hamas is a legitimate political movement that was elected democratically.
Despite Erdogan’s stance on Israel’s policy in Palestine, there have been reports that Ankara appointed a new ambassador to Israel after a two-year absence.
Earlier this month, a report by Al-Monitor said the move to appoint Ufuk Ulutas, 40, as the new Turkish ambassador is part of an attempt to improve ties with incoming President-elect Joe Biden’s administration in the US.
His appointment came as a number of Arab countries – Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates – agreed to normalise diplomatic ties with Israel in deals brokered by Trump.