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Turkiye did not discard the Palestinians to repair ties with Israel

Flags of Turkiye and Israel are seen at Esenboga Airport prior to the arrival of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, in Ankara, Turkiye on 9 March 2022. [Evrim Aydın - Anadolu Agency]
Flags of Turkiye and Israel are seen at Esenboga Airport prior to the arrival of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, in Ankara, Turkiye on 9 March 2022. [Evrim Aydın - Anadolu Agency]

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Turkiye on Wednesday and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Herzog's visit to Turkiye came amidst a tense relationship between the two countries, which reduced their diplomatic relations several years ago.

"The relationship with Turkey has had its ups and downs in recent years," Herzog said in a statement issued by his office before he travelled. "We will not agree on everything, but we will try to restart relations," which he described as "important to Israel, important to Turkey and important to the entire region."

Speaking to the media, Erdogan described Herzog's visit as "historic", stating it "will be a turning point in relations between Turkiye and Israel." He also said that "strengthening relations with the State of Israel has great value for our country", adding that he believed "the coming period will bring new opportunities for both regional and bilateral cooperation."

Turkiye and Israel have been at odds for years, and Palestinian, Arab and Muslim nations have hailed Erdogan over his condemnation of Israel and its leaders, as well as his incomparable support for the Palestinians, their rights and their resistance. However, most of Erdogan's fans were shocked by Herzog's visit and the warm welcome he received.

Hundreds of Turks protested in Istanbul with banners reading: "We do not want Herzog in our country." At the same time, the hashtag #KatilHerzogDefol (Killer Herzog leave our country) was the number one trending hashtag in Turkiye during the president's visit.

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Scores of Arab and Muslim writers and intellectuals and Palestinian factions criticised Erdogan and called Herzog's visit to Turkiye as a "gift" to the president of the state which commits violations against the Palestinians every day and night. They also remined Erdogan of his criticism of Arab states normalising ties with the occupation state.

But there is an angle from which the visit makes complete sense. It comes in the framework of the necessity to maintain political and economic relationships, which should be achieved despite differences of opinions. Erdogan, who was pressured to take this step, did not do so at the expense of Palestinians, their rights and their resistance.

Following his meeting with the Israeli president, Erdogan said: "I underlined the importance we attach to the historical status of Jerusalem and the preservation of the religious identity and sanctity of Masjid Al-Aqsa." Erdogan highlighted the important issues, which Arab leaders signing normalisation deals with Israel failed to do.

He also stressed the continuous help Turkish NGOs are giving Palestinians, seeking recognition for them. "Regarding the humanitarian aid programmes carried out by Tika and the Turkish Red Crescent for the Palestinians, we reiterated that they must continue in Palestine," he said. "We are waiting for Israel to reply to this request," he added.

According to Israeli writer Nadav Shragai, Erdogan "wants to restore the [Ottoman] empire of old and sees himself as responsible for Jerusalem from the Islamic perspective."

"From Erdogan's point of view, "Jerusalem is under occupation," is of utmost importance after Mecca and Medina, and should be part of the "Umrah"."

In rebuilding ties with Israel, Turkiye did not start a war on Palestinians. It did not persecute, detain or expel them from its soil as Arab states have. Ankara did not try to brainwash its residents about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Turkiye did not stop telling its people that Palestinians are their brothers and Israel the enemy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog (L) hold a joint press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkiye on 9 March 2022. [Halil Sağırkaya - Anadolu Agency]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog (L) hold a joint press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkiye on 9 March 2022. [Halil Sağırkaya – Anadolu Agency]

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have replaced the negative image of the Israeli occupation in their school curriculums with a positive one and did the opposite about the Palestinians. Israel became a neighbour and Israeli occupiers became friends, while Palestinians became enemies. Helping Palestinians under the occupation and sending them aid became a crime in the countries which had normalised their ties with Israel, while in Turkiye, the government takes the lead and encourages all forms of support for Palestinians.

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In Turkiye, the Palestinian resistance is not classed as a terrorist entity and still enjoys much official and popular support, while countries that normalised ties with Israel have blacklisted anyone who voices support for Palestinians or their resistance, or criticises Israel.

Time and again Erdogan has proven that he does not compromise on Palestinian rights in favour of his country's interests, and he does not keep silent when the Israeli occupation attacks Palestinians.

As Prime Minister in 2005, Erdogan storming out of a World Economic Forum debate following a clash with the Israeli president over Israel's war on Gaza – codenamed Operation Cast Lead – which had killed at least 1,300 Palestinians.

Erdogan withdrew the Turkish ambassador to Israel in 2010 after occupation naval forces stormed the Freedom Flotilla which was carrying humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip. The Israeli attack resulted in the death of ten Turkish activists. Relations were repaired later, but when the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, they broke down again and the Turkish ambassador was recalled and has not yet been reappointed.

Erdogan's actions prove that his plans to rebuild ties with Israel are different and will not come at the expense of the Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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