Palestine Pulse

Why was Hamas interested in the Turkish elections?

Article Summary
Hamas leaders were among the first to congratulate the AKP for its victory in the Turkish elections, as Turkey has always supported the Palestinian cause.

Despite its preoccupation with the ongoing intifada in the Palestinian territories, Hamas has dedicated a great deal of its time to follow up on the Turkish elections of Nov. 1, during which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) achieved a victory of 49.41%, allowing it to form a single-party government.

Hamas’ follow-up on the Turkish elections was reflected in its members’ discussions on Facebook and the Hamas-affiliated Palestine dialogue network, and focused on the impact of the elections on Turkey’s position in regard to the Palestinian cause.

On the day of the Turkish elections, head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Meshaal made two separate phone calls: the first to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the second to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, to congratulate them on the successful elections.

On the same day, Ismail Haniyeh, deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, called Erdogan to congratulate him, noting that the party's victory had reached the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Erdogan told Haniyeh that he would discuss the Israeli violations of Al-Aqsa Mosque during the G-20 summit scheduled for Nov. 15 in in the Turkish city of Antalya.

AKP member Mohammad al-Ghoul revealed on Nov. 3 that Hamas was the first to congratulate the AKP on the election result, and that this was greatly welcomed by Turkey. He said that the Turkish government will establish a Ministry of the Middle East to focus on Palestinian and Syrian affairs and the situation in the Arab region.

On Nov. 1, Hamas issued an official statement — a copy of which Al-Monitor obtained — calling on Turkey to support the Palestinian people in its struggle for freedom and liberation.

Izzat al-Rishq, member of Hamas’ political bureau who resides in Doha, told Al-Monitor, “The AKP’s victory in Turkey represents a victory for Palestine, Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, and is a gift from the Turkish people to Palestine and to all the just causes around the world. Hamas congratulates the president, the government, the Turks and Turkish parties on completing their democratic and civilized choice with integrity and transparency, and blessed be the country’s well-established justice.”

Two important observations are noteworthy when it comes to reading how Hamas dealt with the Turkish elections and the AKP’s victory. The first is that the movement’s leaders were the first among the world leaders to contact Erdogan and Davutoglu to congratulate them, even before the official final results were announced. Hamas must have been certain that the AKP would win the elections, based on the preliminary vote counts that started on the night of the first election day.

The second observation is that Hamas was the only Palestinian faction to congratulate Turkey. No other Palestinian faction issued a statement to congratulate the AKP, which indicates that these factions are convinced that what binds Hamas and Turkey is a special alliance that may not apply to them. However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated his Turkish counterpart on Nov. 2.

Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, told Al-Monitor, “The Turkish leadership that won the elections is called upon to harness its victory to serve the Palestinian cause, especially the issue of Jerusalem and the situation in Gaza, because the great victory in the Turkish elections is a victory for the Palestinian cause, before it is a victory for Turkey.”

Interestingly enough, Hamas-affiliated media outlets, such as Al-Aqsa TV channel and Felesteen newspaper, showed great interest in the Turkish elections and monitored the results firsthand. These outlets published photographs of Erdogan and celebrations of AKP supporters on their websites, and they documented the Turkish, Arab and international reactions.

Yousef Rizqa, the former minister of information in the Hamas government, told Al-Monitor in regard to Hamas' exaggerated response to the AKP election victory, “With these results, Turkey was able to overcome the crises it suffered as a result of foreign interventions, and the Israeli one in particular, which sided with opponents of the AKP. Today after the elections, Israel has to appease Turkey to resolve the issue of the Mavi Marmara. One can say that the Turkey-Saudi Arabia-Qatar axis has become stronger and Turkey has become more committed to its refusal of the coup in Egypt. It is now a strong player in the Syrian arena and more united in the face of the Kurdish separatist movement, as well as the Islamic State [IS].”

Hamas seems to have noticed the mounting tension between Tel Aviv and Ankara because of a dispute over the continuing blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2007 and Turkey’s efforts to lift it, which Yasin Aktay, the adviser to the Turkish prime minister and vice chairman of the AKP, had expressed on Aug. 16.

This prompted Meshaal to praise Turkey during his visit to Ankara on Sept. 13. In addition, Hamas is trying to exploit what it sees as an Israeli desire to improve the relationship with the Turks to pressure it to lift the siege of the Gaza Strip.

Erdogan's adviser Arshad Harmozlo told Al-Monitor, “Turkey will remain by the Palestinian people’s side and defend their rights. It will not give up its role toward them as the Palestinian cause was present in the preparations for the Turkish elections, and formed a pivotal issue in Erdogan’s and Davutoglu’s speeches. The Turkish position considers lifting the Gaza siege as a condition for normalizing relations with Israel.”

Hamas hopes that Turkey, after the AKP win, ends its relations with Israel and adopts a political stance against it. However, while Erdogan does not normally miss a chance to attack Israel, in the end, he is committed to his country’s best interest, which requires political relations with Israel.

At the same time, Hamas needs to review its relationship with Turkey following the elections, in light of the regional developments and the Russian intervention in Syria, which requires regional cooperation to cope with the emerging situation, including the fight against IS.

Whereas Hamas is searching for its place in this complicated regional scene, Turkey has no choice but to engage with Israel.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science and Media Department of Umma University Open Education in Gaza, where he lectures on the history of the Palestinian cause, national security and Israel studies. He holds a doctorate in political history from Damascus University and has published a number of books on the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

He works as a researcher and translator for a number of Arab and Western research centers and writes regularly for a number of Arab newspapers and magazines.

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