Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed his backing for the recent efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to sources who attended a closed-door meeting with him in New York on Monday.
Erdogan, who is in the US to attend the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, said that Turkey views the normalization attempts between the two countries positively, as Ankara is in favor of decreasing tensions in the region.
The Turkish leader was responding to a question from analysts and journalists who were invited to a briefing at his hotel, sources told Middle East Eye, a news website that covers the region.
For months, Washington has been leading efforts to strike a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel that would see them establish formal ties, following the example of several other Arab countries that have signed the so-called Abraham Accords with Israel since last year.
Saudi Arabia has offered to normalize ties with Israel since 2002 under the Arab Peace Plan, which calls for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. However, the plan has been rejected by Israel, which continues to expand its settlements and annexation policies in the occupied territories.
A Turkish source familiar with Ankara’s thinking told MEE that Turkey’s current support to normalization is just a continuation and reflection of its general policy, which aims to promote dialogue and cooperation in the region.
“The normalization could become a political leverage to push Israel to act smarter in the region,” the source said. “This could put Turkey at ease in its relationship with Israel, since it is likely to create less tensions with the Palestinians.”
Turkey and Israel have had a strained relationship for years, mainly due to Turkey’s vocal criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and its support for Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza. The two countries have also clashed over maritime boundaries and energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
However, Turkey and Israel have also maintained diplomatic and trade ties, and have recently expressed their willingness to improve their relations. In May, Erdogan spoke by phone with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and congratulated him on his election victory. The two leaders agreed to work on enhancing bilateral cooperation and regional stability.
In exchange for normalizing ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia wants security guarantees from the US, help in developing a civilian nuclear program, and fewer restrictions on US arms sales. While the Palestinian issue is not thought to be central to the agreement, a component of the deal would include possible benefits to the Palestinians, such as easing the blockade on Gaza or allowing more access to holy sites in Jerusalem.
A Saudi media report over the weekend claimed that Riyadh was “pausing talks” with Israel due to distaste over the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The US State Department offered a quick and firm denial of the report on Sunday, saying on X: “Talks are ongoing, and we look forward to further conversations with both parties.”
The latest escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians in May, which killed more than 250 people in Gaza and 13 people in Israel, has added more urgency to the US-led efforts to broker peace in the region. The US has also been trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which is opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia.