Despite Aide to Gaza, Israel-Turkey Deal Offers Palestinians Little Hope
The agreement with Turkey won't lift the blockade on Gaza, but will preserve Hamas' rule, giving the Israelis a guarantee of weakened prospects for Palestinian unification.
The Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement is essentially one of mutual interests. Thus it will be judged by its economic, diplomatic and strategic impact.
The dispute over Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which seemed like the main stumbling block when negotiations began, ended in a compromise that could have been reached from day one had Turkey not kept insisting that the blockade be lifted completely. But it turns out that even for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, words are one thing and deeds are another when his country’s interests are at stake.
Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas-run Gaza will be particularly enthusiastic over the deal and its promise of Turkish humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is supposed to start flowing immediately. Hamas understands that Erdogan’s promises to end the blockade won’t be fulfilled. The man who in recent years was seen as the Islamic world’s strongest leader, even rivaling the king of Saudi Arabia, is now losing his power and influence, and was therefore compelled to drop his demand for an end to the blockade in exchange for permission to build a few projects in the Strip.
But Hamas can’t publicly criticize Erdogan, as it can’t risk losing the only major ally it has left in the region. Unlike Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Erdogan briefed about the agreement by phone, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshal, got a personal invitation to Ankara, where he held a long meeting with Erdogan at the presidential palace. No details have emerged about the content of their talk, but reading between the lines, it seems Erdogan reassured Meshal that Turkey isn’t abandoning Hamas, which faces serious difficulties in managing civil affairs in Gaza.
Hamas, as Gaza’s sovereign power, must ultimately provide solutions to residents’ problems, despite its efforts to transfer the blame to the PA. The two big problems that require immediate solutions are water and electricity, and Turkey, unlike other countries, isn’t conditioning its promised aid on these issues – construction of a power plant and a desalination facility – on the PA’s consent or supervision. It is also offering to build many other projects that will ease life for Gaza’s residents and create jobs.
All this is a shot in the arm for Hamas. It also ensures that Turkey will play a more dominant role in Gaza against Egypt, which has turned from Hamas’ greatest friend under former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to an enemy under current President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. Sissi considers Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood his archenemy, and he views both Hamas and Turkey as part of the Brotherhood.
Solutions to Gaza’s water and power problems, combined with infrastructure, housing and medical projects, will help Hamas preserve its rule. That will also indirectly help Israel, which wants to preserve the split between Hamas-run Gaza and the PA-controlled West Bank, since creation of a unified Palestinian government would advance the Palestinian cause in international forums. Israel also prefers Hamas rule to anarchy as long as it remains militarily deterred.
Thus, rather than promoting an end to the internal Palestinian schism, the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation will actually help perpetuate it. And that explains the disappointment and sense of missed opportunities on the Palestinian side.