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Will Erdogan Go to Gaza?

Despite Hamas' statement that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will travel to Gaza on July 5, questions remain as to whether the trip will actually take place.
A Palestinian youth draped in a Turkish flag looks at the Gaza Seaport during a rally in support of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Gaza City June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTX10RQ8

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday, June 25, that he might make a “surprise visit” to Gaza, no one thought it would happen as early as next week. Though it's unlikely the visit will take place any time soon, the Islamist Palestinian militant group Hamas believes differently.

As reported on June 27 by Falestin, a newspaper considered to be Hamas' mouthpiece, Abdelsalam Siyyam, secretary-general of the Hamas government, said Erdogan’s Gaza visit is scheduled for July 5. Siyyam said, “Two Turkish delegations, one governmental and one press, arrived in Gaza two days ago and met with Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad. ... They informed us about the timing of the visit.”

Although Erdogan’s office maintains its silence, Cemalettin Hasimi, project director at the Turkish Public Diplomacy Office, tweeted on June 27, “We were able to invite (journalists from) four television channels and two newspapers. … This was a program about bringing together the journalists and foreign policy issues. It’s not related to our prime minister’s visit to Gaza.”

While in Washington in May, Erdogan said during a join press conference with US President Barack Obama that he would visit the West Bank when he travels to Gaza in June.

“If it’s going to happen, the Palestinian Authority should be notified, and we haven’t received anything yet,” Fadi al-Husseini, spokesperson at the Palestinian Embassy in Ankara, told Al-Monitor. “We doubt he will visit the West Bank. There surely is no worldwide protocol rule, but even if we’re notified tomorrow, it will be too short of a notice. There are logistical issues involved, like making sure that President Mahmoud Abbas has no scheduled visit, and there is certainly the security aspect.”

Israeli diplomatic sources speaking to Al-Monitor also cast doubt on the potential visit. “Even if the prime minister uses the Rafah border gate to get to Gaza, there are some procedures to be followed. Israel has to be notified in advance,” said one Israeli source. “Egyptians, for example, need to inform us. And if Erdogan is going to the West Bank, he might prefer to go through Israel. In that case, we need to be notified too. Nobody has contacted us about this visit, and there is no official confirmation from Ankara.”

Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday that the Gezi Park protests “sadly forced us to delay the trip. Gaza is ready (for the visit), but we were not ready because of the events. We can make a surprise visit at any time.”

The prime minister had met with Haniyeh and Hamas political bureau chief Khalid Meshaal on Monday, June 24, at Erdogan’s official residence in Ankara. Husseini further told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian Embassy was not informed about the Hamas leadership’s visit or the nature of the discussions.  

On June 25, Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ chief foreign relations official, said the meeting addressed Israel’s policy to turn Jerusalem into a Jewish city, as well as the problem of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

The Turkish prime minister has been talking about a trip to Gaza since March. It’s possible that both Erdogan and Hamas see talk of a Gaza visit as a public relations effort to rally people around a common Islamic agenda and unite them against Israel. Yet the fact of the matter is that a potential visit to Gaza — when Erdogan's allies are questioning his harsh reactions to recent protests in Turkey — will only make the Erdogan government look worse in these capitals, giving credence to views that he is pursuing an Islamist agenda.

Not only that. Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended an official apology for the deadly May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, the two countries have not officially settled anything. There are rumors that Turkey is demanding as much as $58 million for the nine Turks killed on the flotilla off the coast of Gaza, but that the Israeli side found the amount too high. They claim that the normal amount of compensation in Turkey for a death is said to be $100,000.

Daily Hurriyet reported on June 11, for example, that Israeli Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and Turkish intelligence MIT chief Hakan Fidan met on June 10 in Ankara. The newspaper’s English-language version, the Hurriyet Daily News, ran a similar version of the story the next day. Hurriyet claimed that the two intelligence chiefs exchanged information about the involvement of Syrian and Iranian intelligence agencies in the ongoing demonstrations against the Erdogan government. The paper also claimed that Pardo’s request to meet Erdogan was turned down. The Times of Israel quoted unnamed Israeli sources denying that Pardo had asked for a meeting with Erdogan.  

As the Stratfor report suggests, “Such meetings are typically called when there is specific and actionable intelligence that is deemed critical enough to share. The claim that Pardo and Fidan discussed Iranian and Syrian intelligence activity in Turkey makes sense.” The report, however, questions the person who broke the story. “Turkey’s heavily politicized media environment makes it unlikely that a little known staff reporter for Hurriyet would deal closely enough with the ruling party to make Hurriyet the go-to newspaper for such a sensitive leak.”

While there may be no rational explanation behind the leak, Burhan Kuzu, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution, and an AKP deputy, tweeted on June 13 yet another controversial allegation: “Israel: 'We’re praying for these activities to continue until Erdogan falls. Dear youth, isn’t this boiling your blood?'" Kuzu tweeted. That said, there has been no official statement made from Israel regarding the protests in Turkey.

Erdogan ignited the fire by leveling accusations against an alleged "interest-rate" lobby group — a reference to a covert anti-Semitic belief about wealthy Jewish men. It’s still deeply troubling that someone like Kuzu would send out such a provocative tweet.

Put simply, it’s good for regional security if Israel and Turkey find ways to cooperate, but it is simply wrong for the Erdogan government to get too close to Hamas at the cost of isolating the Abbas leadership in Ramallah.

Tulin Daloglu is a contributor to Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has also written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign PolicyThe Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report.

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