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18 Apr, 2013

Turkey Becomes First Country With Ambassador To Palestine


RAMALLAH, April 17 (NNN-TODAY’S ZAMAN) – Turkey has become the first country with an ambassador to Palestine after its envoy in Ramallah, Şakir Özkan Torunlar, presented his letter of credentials to President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.

Reflecting the upgraded status of Palestine from an entity to a non-member state by a UN vote in November, Torunlar has officially been titled as the first ambassador to Palestine.

Before the UN vote, Torunlar served as Turkey’s consul general in Jerusalem. Having presented his credentials to Abbas, Torunlar became the first foreign ambassador formally recognized by Palestine. Torunlar took office as Turkey’s consul general in Palestine in 2010.

Palestine’s status at the UN was upgraded with a 138-9 vote at the 193-member UN General Assembly in late November. Turkey called the decision a historic vote, being one of the staunchest supporters of Palestinian efforts for statehood within the international community.

Turkey recognized Palestinian statehood in 1988 and first sent an envoy to Palestine in 2005.

Turkey is also seen as having a critical role in a US-led initiative to resume the peace process between Israel and Palestine. After the gradual normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel following a belated Israeli apology for a raid on a Turkish aid ship in 2010, hopes of Turkey assuming this role were revived. The US is believed to see Turkey as a conduit for talks with Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, to convince the group to recognize Israel and act in unity with the Fatah party of President Abbas.

In an unexpected gesture aimed at restoring normal ties with Turkey after a three-year crisis, Israel apologized to Turkey on March 22 for what it called “operational mistakes that might have led to deaths” on the Gaza-bound aid ship Mavi Marmara in May 2010. Eight Turks and one Turkish American were killed on the ship. Infuriated, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended military agreements with Israel after Israel refused to comply with Turkish demands for an apology and compensation for victims of the attack and families of the dead. Ankara also linked normalization of ties to the lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Meanwhile, Turkey is sending messages that it will not immediately appoint an ambassador to Israel following the restoration process in the ties. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that Turkey will not send an ambassador to Israel until the blockade of Gaza is lifted, in response to a question on whether the appointment of an ambassador is imminent.

Erdoğan is planning to visit the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, to monitor the status of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan’s announcement about the visit came shortly after the Israeli apology. The prime minister recently confirmed that the visit will take place after his scheduled meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington on May 16.

The visit is reportedly opposed by the United States, which is pressing Turkey for a speedy normalization with Israel in the wake of the Israeli apology. During a visit to İstanbul on March 7, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US wanted Turkish-Israeli relations to get back on track as soon as possible.

On the other hand, Erdoğan’s announced intention to visit Gaza is also not likely to be welcomed in the West Bank, ruled by Hamas’ rival Fatah. Palestinian Ambassador to Turkey Nabil Maarouf confirmed in a recent interview with Today’s Zaman that the Fatah government recommended the visit take place after reconciliation is achieved between Fatah and Hamas.