Relations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Turkey have been growing significantly, both politically and economically. In recent months, Ankara has become the regional capital that Palestinians visit most — for political or tourism purposes. Recent statements by officials from either side have shown that warmer ties have now replaced cold diplomatic niceties.
Most recently, on Oct. 29, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Turkey, expressing deep appreciation for the brotherly relations between the two peoples.
On Oct. 25, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki paid an official visit to Ankara, met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and held a press conference on the same day, in which Cavusoglu said, “We always stand by our Palestinian brothers, because Palestine and Jerusalem are a red line that should never be crossed. We will continue to defend them even if the entire world gives up.”
Malki stressed “the importance of Turkish support to Palestine in various fields, because it gives us the strength to deal with all risks, and after the US decision to cut aid for UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] Turkey has worked on helping us fill the gap.”
On Sept. 26, Abbas met with Erdogan in New York on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, briefed him on the latest developments in the political process and the US decisions linked to the peace process, thanking him for his unwavering support for the Palestinian cause.
Palestinian Ambassador in Ankara Fayed Mustafa told Al-Monitor, “The PA is keen on maintaining permanent contact with Turkey as a large, influential regional state. We find Turkey is also keen to establish a special relationship with the Palestinians; our bilateral relations are growing. This year, we signed 15 joint government agreements. We formed bilateral bodies such as the Turkey-Palestine Economic Cooperation Council and the Turkish-Palestinian Joint Governmental Committee because Turkey is an important trading partner for Palestine.”
The Turks have made the Palestinian cause their main issue, both at the official and popular levels. This increases the common points between the two and boosts their mutual interest in strengthening bilateral relations, as evidenced by the significant progress in Turkish support for the Palestinians.
Two economic developments are indicative of the development of Palestinian-Turkish relations. First, in January, Ankara provided $10 million in cash to the PA for the first time ever, while previously Turkish financial aid was allocated to carry out field projects only.
The second development is the increase in the Turkish financial allocations to UNRWA since Turkey took over the chairmanship of UNRWA's Advisory Commission in July. The commission advises UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl on policy and operational matters. In May, UNRWA announced that it had received financial support from Turkey worth $10 million, in addition to 26,000 tons of wheat flour to help 1 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip.
Mahmoud al-Rantissi, deputy editor of Rouya Turkiyyah magazine in Istanbul, told Al-Monitor, “Palestinian relations with Turkey increased as soon as the United States began talking about the 'deal of the century.' Turkey felt that the Palestinians need its political and financial support. The Palestinians gained strength with this support because they believe Turkey is a powerful regional state and its support gives them the momentum they need. Financial support — despite its importance — is not the only link keeping the Turks and the Palestinians at each other’s side, but there are also political and diplomatic ties.”
On Oct. 30, the Palestinian government praised the results of the Oct. 25 meeting of the Turkish-Palestinian Joint Committee in Ankara that led to signing several agreements in the areas of agriculture, security, crime, civil defense, communications and technology, all of which were seen as a culmination of distinct bilateral relations.
Issam al-Dhalis, a Hamas leader and deputy head of its political department in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas is present in Turkey and is coordinating with its institutions in full swing to organize its humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and to treat those injured during the marches of return in Turkish hospitals. Hamas welcomes any rapprochement between the PA and Turkey if it serves the Palestinian cause; we have no issue with that.”
On Oct. 12, Istanbul held a conference in support of Jerusalem, with the participation of Hamas leaders, most notably former head of its political bureau Khaled Meshaal and current head Ismail Haniyeh.
Meshaal called on formulating an Arab and Islamic plan for the liberation of Palestine. Via video conference call, Haniyeh said the "deal of the century" aims to quash the Palestinian cause.
However, Rantissi noted, “Turkey's relationship with Hamas is declining for several reasons, most importantly since Hamas has not been part of the Palestinian government since 2014 when Ismail Haniyeh resigned as prime minister, after reconciliation with Fatah. In addition, the movement now has close ties with Egypt and Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan, and both oppose Turkey. Further pulling the two apart are the changes in the Hamas leadership following its internal elections in 2017 and the fact that Haniyeh is yet to visit Turkey.”
The growing Turkish-Palestinian relations coincide with the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2, which led to successive developments.
The Palestinians believe that Saudi Arabia is facing mounting US and Western pressure over suspicions of the role high-level Saudi officials played in the killing of Khashoggi. Meanwhile, Ankara is taking advantage of this to improve relations with Washington and ask it to reduce pressure on the Palestinians.
“Maintaining and strengthening our relationship with Turkey is a strategic goal of ours. We are also working on tightening our ties with the rest of the region. Despite regional strife, we hope it would not reflect negatively on our case. We seek to maintain our relationships with all different parties,” Mustafa noted.
It seems that Khashoggi's death has strengthened Turkey's position in the regional competition with Saudi Arabia, especially in raising its position in the Muslim world, and showing it as a state interested in finding solutions to the Palestinian cause, as Saudi Arabia is no longer able to contain the negative consequences of Khashoggi's death, thus shifting its attention away from the Palestinian cause.