Israeli Settlements Obstacle to Normalized Ties, Turkey Says

Israel should forfeit its designs on land the Palestinians claim for a state if it wants to normalize ties with Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday, damping expectations that Ankara’s foreign-policy rethink will include mended ties with its former ally.

“If Israel gives up its activities and aggression, such as illegal settlements or annexation, our relations will normalize,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara. “Let’s say we established good relations today, if they continue to do the same the following day, then relations will break down again. That’s why we need to tackle these from the start.”

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara in May 2018 and recalled its own envoys from Israel and the U.S. after Israeli soldiers killed nearly 60 Palestinians protesting the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. While Turkey’s ambassador returned to Washington about two weeks later, Turkey and Israel did not appoint new ambassadors, and diplomatic channels have remained opened at the level of charge d’affaires ever since.

Cavusoglu didn’t say whether Turkey was planning to appoint an ambassador to Israel to repair ties as a shifting geopolitical landscape reshuffles alliances. Rifts with Russia, the election of Turkey critic Joe Biden as U.S. president, and the threat of American and European sanctions have all forced Turkey to try to repair relations with traditional western allies and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

But there have been no breakthroughs yet.

“We are directly talking with the Saudis and this has created a positive atmosphere,” Cavusoglu said. “But it is not right to say that relations will suddenly improve. It wouldn’t be realistic.”

And while the United Arab Emirates made “positive statements” to improve strained ties with Turkey, it should abandon policies that run counter to Turkey’s interests, he said. “We’ve met with them several times. If they want, we can fix the relationship.”

The UAE has called on Turkey to “recalibrate its relations with Arabs” now that its government and Saudi Arabia have ended a three-year boycott of gas-rich Qatar that pushed the Gulf nation closer to Ankara. Abu Dhabi and Ankara are on opposing sides of a proxy war in Libya and disagree on issues ranging from Syria and Iraq to the eastern Mediterranean.

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