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Turkey courts Hamas despite US pressure

Despite US and Israeli criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with the Hamas leadership, the relationship between Turkey and Hamas remains strong.
The Gaza Strip's Hamas Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh (L)  and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands in front of the lawmakers of Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party at the Parliament in Ankara on  January 3, 2012.   Haniyeh's visit was a show of solidarity with the Islamic aid group IHH, which had planned to send the Mavi Marmara vessel with another Gaza flotilla last year but then dropped the plan. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty

The relationship between Hamas and Turkey has recently witnessed political and media developments, in tandem with accelerating regional events, in both the internal Palestinian arena and Turkey’s regional policy. 

Most recently, the US State Department issued Aug. 25 a statement read by its spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, lashing out at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent meeting with Hamas officials in Istanbul.

“The United States strongly objects to Turkish President Erdogan hosting two Hamas leaders in Istanbul on August 22,” the statement said. “President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community.” The statement also labeled the Hamas officials who visited Erdogan as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”

A Hamas leadership delegation headed by the chief of its political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, met Erdogan Aug. 22 at Vahid al-Din Palace in Istanbul. The delegation briefed him on the developments related to the Palestinian cause. Haniyeh praised Turkey’s role in supporting the Palestinian people. He also congratulated it on the recent discovery of a new gas field in the Black Sea, and the opening July 24 of the Hagia Sophia Mosque.

The Hamas delegation included Saleh al-Arouri, the movement’s deputy chief; Maher Salah, Hamas' leader abroad; Izzat al-Rishq, head of Hamas' bureau for Arab and Islamic relations; and Jihad Yaghmour, Hamas’ representative in Turkey.

The meeting was also attended by Hakan Fidan, head of the Turkish intelligence service; Fahrettin Altun, head of the presidential communication department; and Ibrahim Kalan, presidential spokesman.

Hami Aksoy, spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, condemned the US State Department's statement, saying in an Aug. 25 statement, “It [the US statement] crossed the line and designating Hamas representatives as ‘terrorists’ would not contribute to regional peace or stability. This is because Hamas won in democratic elections in 2006. The United States is unaware of the realities of the region, as it cut ties with the Palestinian people.”

On the same day, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said in a statement, “Washington's statements reflect the US intimidation against the countries of the region and are part of the US aggression against Palestinians and their just cause in favor of Israel. Hamas is a national liberation movement in a legitimate struggle against the terrorism of the Israeli occupation.”

This is the second meeting that Erdogan holds with Haniyeh in Turkey this year. The two had met before on Feb. 1, when they discussed and denounced the US peace plan for the Middle East, known locally as the "deal of the century."

“Turkey tops the list of Islamic countries that support the right of our people to their land. Its support is to the influential Palestinian forces, and Hamas is one of them,” Hamas leader Abdul Rahman Shadid told Al-Monitor.

He said, “Erdogan’s meeting with Hamas’ leadership aims to confront the US deal of the century, annexation plans and normalization agreements. We need all official and popular support to face these US plans. Hamas is an integral part of the Palestinian people, and was elected as the people’s representative in the 2006 legislative elections, which it won by majority. The Hamas leadership's meetings with presidents, princes and ministers have never stopped at any stage.”

Since Haniyeh's arrival in Turkey from Qatar Aug. 12, he has had a busy schedule. He sought to follow up on the affairs of the movement and the Palestinian cause, and to intensify his contacts with the Turkish official, popular and media quarters.

On Aug. 28, Haniyeh held an extended meeting with senior Turkish journalists in Istanbul, where he described the Emirati-Israeli normalization agreement as “a stab in the back of the Palestinian people.” He called for a coalition led by Turkey to limit the effects of this agreement that he believes aims to undermine Turkey’s role in the region.

Haniyeh affirmed Aug. 20 in a TV interview with Turkey's Arabic-language TRT Arabi channel, “Hamas ties with Turkey are good and advanced and based on mutual understanding and cooperation regarding the variables of the Palestinian cause.”

On July 1, Haniyeh, who was still in Qatar, had assured the Turkish channel Net TV that “the Palestinian people will not forget the clear, strong and bold positions taken by Erdogan and Turkish parties in support of Palestine, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

Hussam al-Dajani, a political science professor at Al-Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Both Hamas and Turkey are benefiting from their bilateral relationship. The movement gets to boost its regional and international position, and gains new support for the Palestinian cause. Turkey for its part gets to strengthen its influence in the Palestinian arena.”

He said that Hamas rules the Gaza Strip overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where Turkey is expanding. “There are ideological commonalities between Hamas and the Justice and Development Party that rules Turkey. Both have an Islamic authority,” he noted.

Dajani asserted that Turkey will not forsake its relationship with Hamas. “Rather, this relationship is likely to grow and last,” he added.

On Aug. 26, Reuters quoted Roey Gilad, the Israeli charge d'affaires in Turkey, as saying Turkey gave passports to 12 Hamas members, without revealing their names. He claimed they were financing and planning armed “terror-related activity” against Israel from Istanbul.

Israeli quarters had alleged in 2019 that Turkey asked Hamas to reduce its military activities against Israel from its territory, following US and Israeli criticism of Hamas’ activities there.

Bassem Naim, a former health minister in the Gaza government and a member of Hamas' international relations office, told Al-Monitor, “Turkey sees Hamas as an essential component of the Palestinian political map. It refuses to isolate any Palestinian party, most notably Hamas.”

He explained that the movement can veto any solution it does not approve of, as it was democratically elected. “Any solution [for the Palestinian] cause must include Hamas,” he noted.

Naim added, “The relationship between Hamas and Turkey is strategic and based on mutual interests. Turkey provides the movement with political and diplomatic support because it is elected and influential. Turkey also has relief and development organizations and charitable institutions operating in the Palestinian territories.”

In regard to Turkey’s military support to Hamas, he said, “I have no knowledge of military and security support. Hamas monitors the US and Israeli pressures on Turkey as a result of its relationship with us. But we are confident that the Turkish geostrategic and regional situation is improving, which is likely to strengthen our relationship with it. Turkey may take ostensible measures to curb the US pressure, without, however, forsaking its relationship with us.”

Hamas is committed to its relations with Turkey, whose stances are more supportive than those of many Arab countries and align with Hamas’ political line. But these positions will keep Ankara under US and Israeli pressure aimed to restrict its relationship with Hamas.

This worries Hamas, despite the Turks’ ethical and moral commitment to it. 

At the same time, Turkey is keen not to jeopardize its foreign relations because of its rapprochement with Hamas. This makes the Hamas-Turkey relationship dependent on mutual interests and limited to political and media support, just like the Qatar-Hamas relationship.

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