Turkish Foreign Minister Visits Israel As a Clear Sign of Improving Relations

Turkey’s foreign minister, Hikmet Cetin, flew to Israel this past weekend for a visit that many here believe reflects continually improving relations between the two countries.

Cetin’s arrival here Saturday night marked the first official visit by a Turkish foreign minister to Israel.

During their meeting, Cetin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signed a series of bilateral agreements on economic and cultural cooperation.

Israeli-Turkish relations have been on a steadily upward trend since the opening of the Madrid conference on Middle East peace in October 1991.

Turkey has been an active participant in the multilateral peace talks that grew out of that conference.

Israel looks to Turkey, a secular Islamic state, as a possible source for additional water supplies for Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

Under the Ottoman sultan, it was the Turks who offered the Jews sanctuary after the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

During a meeting here Sunday with Peres, Cetin extolled the “success and prosperity” of Turkey’s Jewish community.

Cetin said his country’s Jewish community had never suffered discrimination or persecution at the hands of the country’s Muslims, who comprise the vast majority of Turkey’s population.

To reinforce this, Peres observed that Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the state’s second president, began their adult lives as law students in Istanbul.

“Had history gone differently,” Peres said, “they could have wound up as ministers in Turkey’s government.”

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