A high-ranking Hamas delegation visited Ankara on June 24, 2016. At its helm was Khaled Mashal, chairman of the movement’s Political Bureau.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave Mashal the latest updates on the concluding stages of Turkey’s negotiations with Israel on a normalization agreement between the two states.
On issues regarding the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Turkey have been closely collaborating since the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair. The tie between them stems from the common ideology of Hamas and the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey as affiliates of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood movement. In addition, Erdogan and Mashal have close, friendly relations.
Throughout the talks with Israel on normalizing relations, Turkey constantly updated Hamas and consulted with it. Erdogan made the demand for lifting the blockade of Gaza a condition for an agreement with Israel.
On January 25, 2016, senior Hamas official Ahmed Yusuf told the Palestinian Maan News Agency that Hamas and senior Turkish officials were maintaining a direct line of communication on the terms reached between Israel and Turkey on the Gaza issue.
Turkey Snubs the Palestinian Authority
The tight ties between Turkey and Hamas are a thorn in the side of the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The PA sees itself as the landlord of Gaza even though Hamas is ruling there and thinks it should have been consulted on all of Turkey’s talks with Israel on the Gaza issue.
Erdogan, however, kept Abbas in the dark about the details of the negotiations and gave him no more than a general update. On June 25, the Palestinian ambassador to Turkey, Faed Mustafa, told the newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the Turks had updated the PA on progress in the negotiations with Israel during a meeting of Abbas with Turkish officials and that Abbas has been invited to visit Turkey and may do so soon. Only late on June 26 did Erdogan speak on the phone with Abbas.
Erdogan was unable to fulfill his promise to Mashal about securing a full removal of the blockade on Gaza. The Turks explained to the Hamas leaders that they had done their utmost in the talks with Israel. According to Hamas sources, Mashal, whom the Turks kept informed on the negotiations, accepted Erdogan’s explanations and the relations between Turkey and Hamas have not suffered.
Turkey, however, scored several achievements in the negotiations. It got Israel to agree to the establishment of major projects in Gaza in the fields of health, water, and electricity.
Turkey also secured Israel’s agreement to the entry of various commodities into Gaza, including cement and iron, subject to Israeli security surveillance at Ashdod port. This will enable the Strip’s ongoing rehabilitation from the damages it suffered in Operation Protective Edge.
Turkey’s achievements will make Hamas somewhat less dependent on Egypt for bringing merchandise into Gaza via the Rafiah crossing.
Hamas will now be able to market Turkey’s achievements in the negotiations to the Gaza public as achievements of its own, which will make life easier for the population. This, in turn, will help bolster Hamas’ status in Gaza.
Hamas is portraying Turkey’s rebuff of Israel’s demand to close Hamas’ office in Istanbul as a further achievement. Although the office will remain open, according to Israeli sources, Turkey promised Israel that the office will instigate no further terror attacks on Israel.
According to Israeli security officials, it was this office that activated the terror gang that kidnapped and murdered the three Israeli teenage boys near Hebron in the summer of 2014, as well as the terror gang that murdered the Henkin couple near Nablus at the end of last year.
The Istanbul office was run by a member of Hamas’ Political Bureau, Salah al-Aruri, who is in charge of the activities of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank. In compliance with Israel’s demand, al-Aruri left Turkey and went to live in Qatar.
Hamas officials say that Turkey will play a further role after signing the normalization agreement with Israel. In the next stage, Turkey is supposed to try and mediate a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, as well as a prisoner exchange in which four Israelis (or their bodies) held by Hamas will be released in return for Palestinian terrorists held by Israel.
Over a year ago, mediator Tony Blair tried to work out a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas but failed at the task. According to Hamas officials, Turkey has a better chance to forge such an agreement.
Egypt’s response to the agreement taking shape between Israel and Turkey is still unknown. Although so far Egypt is keeping mum, in the past it expressed great displeasure at the possibility of Israel giving Turkey any sort of foothold in Gaza.