Fatah, Hamas fight over Turkey
After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for general elections during his speech at the United Nations on Sept. 26, Palestinian factions, led by Fatah and Hamas, started drawing up plans in this regard both at home and abroad.
On Nov. 11, Hamas announced that the head of its political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, phoned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to brief him on the developments of the upcoming elections. Haniyeh stressed Hamas’ position to overcome obstacles in the elections and called for holding them in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Erdogan expressed satisfaction with the Palestinian position toward the elections.
A day earlier, Erdogan met in Ankara with a Hamas delegation, led by former head of the movement’s political bureau Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas in the Palestinian diaspora Maher Salah and head of the movement's international relations department Mousa Abu Marzouk. They discussed developments in the Palestinian cause, and expressed appreciation for Erdogan's pro-Palestine stance.
That same day, Abbas phoned Erdogan to review the developments of the Palestinian cause. Abbas praised Turkey's stance in support of the Palestinian cause, stressing the importance of holding elections in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Erdogan also stressed the importance of holding these elections, promising to make efforts to ensure their success.
These developments indicate a clear Palestinian focus, both from Fatah and Hamas, on Turkey, rather than on Arab and other Islamic countries. It seems Ankara is seeking a role in making these elections a success.
Hamas and Fatah will now have to decide whether Turkey is an acceptable mediator in any potential future electoral problem. This could possibly be at the expense of the Egyptian role.
Turkish influence has been growing in the Palestinian arena since Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Ankara in 2002, raising the level of relations with both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. Turkey has not only been pushing for the success of the electoral process being prepared at this stage, but Turkish influence among Palestinians has taken on multiple political, economic and cultural dimensions.
Moin Naim, a Palestinian researcher in Turkish affairs, who lives in Istanbul, told Al-Monitor, “Turkey has not made pledges to Hamas and Fatah about the elections, but it has a unique position toward both that other countries might not have. It has strong ties with Hamas and can easily communicate with it. Hamas sees Turkey as an honest party that has no ambitions in the Palestinian dossier. Meanwhile, Fatah believes that Turkey does not set any conditions on their relationship and has provided great political and diplomatic services in the UN and international fora. Moreover, Turkey's hostility to Abbas' archenemy Mohammad Dahlan attracts Fatah and makes it seek stronger ties with it at Hamas’ expense.”
On Nov. 13, the Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 30 Palestinians. The ministry called on Tel Aviv to end this aggression, following the Nov. 12 killing of Islamic Jihad military leader Bahaa Abu el-Atta in Gaza.
Al-Monitor learned from Hamas quarters that a delegation headed to Ankara on Nov. 13 and visited the AKP headquarters, the Health and Labor ministries, and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The delegation, headed by Hamas official in Turkey Jihad Yaghmour, met with the president’s deputy for foreign affairs Jawdat Yilmaz and briefed him on the developments of the aggression on Gaza and its repercussions. The delegation also met with the member of parliament for the ruling party, Osman Nuri Gulacar.
Mahmoud Mardawi, a member of Hamas' national relations bureau, told Al-Monitor, “Turkey is a pivotal country in the Middle East with strong relations with the Palestinians, namely with Fatah and Hamas. Both movements welcome Ankara’s role as long as it does not come at Cairo’s expense. It rather compliments it instead of contradicting it. Turkey is qualified to play this role, and Hamas is ready to receive whatever Ankara has to offer, since the latter is making great efforts to overcome obstacles and facilitate the course of elections.”
Turkey's intervention may help Egypt overcome the difficulties preventing it from solving several Palestinian issues, including reconciliation with Fatah and a truce with Israel.
Abdullah Abdullah, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council and chairman of the Political Committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Al-Monitor, “President Abbas contacted Erdogan to ask him to pressure Hamas into facilitating the elections. The call coincided with Erdogan’s visit to Washington where he met with [US President Donald] Trump on Nov. 13. Abbas wanted the Turks to get word from the Americans about Israel’s approval to hold elections in Jerusalem.”
Abdullah added, “We hope Turkey will work with Egypt side by side to find solutions to the Palestinian crises. Turkey is gaining weight in the region, and has great influence on Hamas. We hope it will succeed in withdrawing the movement from the Iranian alliance.”
Mahmoud al-Rantisi, a researcher at the SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Istanbul, who is close to the AKP, told Al-Monitor, “Turkey, Fatah and Hamas are all against the 'deal of the century.' Turkey is also keen to stand at the same distance from Fatah and Hamas, as both see it as an influential country and an acceptable mediator. Turkey could push both sides to complete the elections, in coordination with the European Union and the United States. Meanwhile, Palestinians wish to exploit Erdogan's somewhat good relationship with Trump to get Israel to allow holding elections in Jerusalem.”
Both Fatah and Hamas believe that Turkey is capable of playing a role in the Palestinian arena. Ankara sees the elections as a lever to overcome the Palestinian division, bridge the different viewpoints and renew the Palestinian political system.
Meanwhile, neither Palestinian movements see Turkey’s role as a replacement to Egypt's since the latter is dictated by its geographical proximity to the Gaza Strip. But Hamas and Fatah realize how important Turkey’s role is and are aware of its contribution to the Palestinian cause.