Turkey Pulse

Palestinians Doubt Erdogan Will Visit Gaza

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Article Summary
Palestinian Ambassador to Ankara Nabil Maarouf doubts whether Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit the West Bank or Gaza any time soon, writes Tulin Daloglu.

Although Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the Palestinian issue his vehicle to move Turkey closer to its Muslim neighborhood, and earned an unprecedented popularity on the Arab street like no other Turkish leader, he may be risking for the first time losing the support of at least a part of the Palestinian population if he chooses to travel to Gaza toward the end of May, before the Palestinian rift between Fatah and Hamas can be reconciled. And it seems the chances of overcoming this separation by then are dim.

“Inshallah, this issue between Fatah and Hamas will be resolved soon,” Palestinian Ambassador to Ankara Nabil Maarouf said during an interview with Al-Monitor on Friday [April 19]. “Our main problem with Erdogan’s [announced potential] visit to Gaza [toward the end of May] is obvious: Is he going to be received in Gaza by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? If Erdogan travels to Gaza before the reconciliation takes place, this means you’re enhancing the position of Hamas; you’re enhancing the separation. This will be like the visits of the prime minister of Malaysia, and the sheikh of Qatar.”

Maarouf told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian Authority had issued statements after each of those visits to Gaza “saying that this is helping the division, because the people of Hamas feel like they’re an independent entity. And this helps keep Gaza far from West Bank.” He went on to say: “When President Abbas met with [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu in Doha during the Arab League Summit [March 26-27], we officially asked the Turkish government not to pay this visit to Gaza before the elections.”

The elections the ambassador referred to are about a comprehensive deal that Fatah and Hamas are working together on to overcome their differences. “Our request is only one thing. President Abbas wants to hold elections. If Hamas wins the elections, let them also take over the West Bank. We don’t mind.” Maarouf also told Al-Monitor, “When Hamas agrees to implement the decisions taken in Doha and Cairo, President Abbas will confirm the new united government all [composed of] technocrats, and they will have two tasks: to hold elections in 90 days and to start reconstructing Gaza.”

While saying that Hamas leader Khaleed Meshaal has been in favor of reconciliation for the past two years, Maarouf also talked about those in Gaza who are against reconciliation. “Those who are from Hamas in Gaza are not in favor of reconciliation for lots of reasons. The main reasons are that they’ve been controlling Gaza for seven years. So they don’t want to share power with anybody else,” he said. “They prefer to create an Islamic entity. Another reason is that a lot of people were killed during the fight between Fatah and Hamas in 2006 and 2007. We’re still a tribal society. People are quiet for now because Hamas is [currently] strong in Gaza. But if the Gaza regime changes, these people are going to ask what happened to their fathers, brothers or husbands. They are also against reconciliation for this reason because they don’t want to deal with that moment.”

Maarouf said the Erdogan government had maintained a balance in its relations with President Abbas and Hamas. “President Abbas travels to Turkey at least three times a year, and he addressed the Turkish parliament quorum twice,” he said. “But when Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh visits him at the parliament, Erdogan introduces him only at his party’s parliamentary group meeting.”

“The Turkish government is always talking with us and asking us to be united. They say, if you’re united, you will be stronger in facing the Americans and the Israelis,” Maarouf told Al-Monitor. “So, the Turkish government’s approach is always in favor of unifying Palestinians. But it has not yet worked not because of Turkey, but because of Israel.”

Maarouf is convinced that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision in 2006 for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was part of a Israeli master plan to divide Palestinians. “This is the most important aspect,” the Palestinian ambassador said. “Israelis are watching what is happening 30 meters [about 100 feet] deep underneath [earth] in Iran, and watching what’s happening in Pakistan. How come they claim they don’t see what’s entering through the borders of Gaza, which is only a few kilometers away from them? When Sharon decided to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, he was planning for this division. Then the division happened. Now Israelis are not in favor of reunifying Palestinians.”

“The key is the United States,” Maarouf said, arguing that if the US wanted, there would be peace between Israelis and Palestinians tomorrow. “What’s happening on the ground is not because Palestinians are weak and Israelis are strong. It’s because of the strategic policy of the United States toward the Middle East.” He went on to say: “When we went to the United Nations General Assembly to seek our statehood, President [Barack] Obama met with President Abbas and he told him, “Look, if you go to the Security Council, I am obliged to use the veto. This means may mean some Americans are going to get killed in the Middle East. You are going to be responsible for every spot of American blood in the Middle East.” Maarouf said US officials not only raised the prospect of a veto, “but they threatened us.”

As Maarouf explained Palestinians’ perspective on the peace process, he also stated that Erdogan’s visit to Gaza was unlikely to happen if he was sincere about helping out the Palestinian people. Referring to the Israeli prime minister’s apology on March 22 for the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, the ambassador said, “Turkish-Israeli relations are already restored. Turkey is interested in playing a bigger role in the Middle East. They can’t play that kind of a bigger role in the Middle East if they are part of the Arab world, and if they don’t have relations with Israel. … But this relationship will never ever become as it was.”

With that perspective, Maarouf also questioned how Erdogan would pay a visit to Gaza or the West Bank at this time, and doubted he will really make it to Palestine under the current circumstances. “If he wants, he can also pay a visit to Ramallah. He can move by plane from Amman to Ramallah but politically speaking, since the reconciliation took place with Israel, and the US played a key role in it, I am sure the Americans are also going to ask Erdogan to pay a visit to Israel, too,” he told Al-Monitor. “Maybe he is making these statements about going to Gaza for domestic politics. I don’t know. But in the end, I believe the Turkish government will recalculate the situation and will take steps which are in Turkey’s interest.”

Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneThe Middle East TimesForeign PolicyThe Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years. In the 2002 general election, Daloglu ran for a seat in the Turkish parliament as a member of the New Turkey Party. She earned BS and MA degrees in international relations at the Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, and completed an MA degree in journalism and public affairs at American University in Washington, D.C.

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Found in: palestinian society, palestinian, hamas, fatah

Tulin Daloglu has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report.

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