Palestine Pulse

Abbas turns to Turkey for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation help

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Article Summary
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara to discuss Turkish assistance in the Palestinian reconciliation process.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flew to the Turkish capital Ankara for an Aug. 28 meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

The Turkish-Palestinian summit is particularly important, as Egypt, which was commissioned by the Arab League to be the exclusive sponsor of the Palestinian reconciliation, has been failing in its role.

A senior official from the Palestinian Authority (PA) told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the meeting followed a suggestion by Abbas himself.

The source noted that Abbas may be steering away from Egypt in light of Fatah’s increasing tension with Egypt following Egypt’s economic concessions to Hamas in Gaza. Abbas had taken a series of measures against Gaza, such as reducing the fuel supply to the power plant and freezing money transfers into Gaza, to push Hamas toward reconciliation.

The PA source explained that Abbas and Erdogan agreed that the latter would form a Turkish committee to meet with leaders from both Hamas and Fatah separately. The committee would also work to resolve the differences that prevented the implementation of previous reconciliation agreements between Fatah and Hamas.

Several agreements have been signed between Hamas and Fatah to end the division, notably the Cairo Agreement in 2011, the Doha Agreement in 2012 and the Refugee Beach Camp Agreement in 2014. However, major disagreements have prevented the implementation of the agreed-upon terms regarding important issues. Hamas refused to hand over the management of Gaza’s border crossings to the PA, while the Ramallah government refused to disburse the salaries of Hamas' employees. Most recently, Hamas formed an administrative committee to run the affairs of Gaza on March 23, replacing the government of national consensus.

Amin Makboul, a Fatah leader and former adviser to Abbas, told Al-Monitor that the Turkish role could lead to a major breakthrough in the reconciliation process.

According to Makboul, Abbas told Erdogan that Hamas should declare the dissolution of its administrative committee in Gaza and enable the government of national consensus to operate and eventually hold Palestinian elections. “Erdogan has reiterated his efforts to end the Palestinian division and will continue to do so until all the differences between the concerned parties are resolved,” Makboul added.

He continued, “The formation of Hamas’ administrative committee as an alternative to the government of national consensus eliminated all hopes of reaching a genuine reconciliation, so Abbas worked to push Hamas to dissolve its committee by imposing punitive measures. But Egypt’s defiance of these measures contravenes the PA’s actions.”

Makboul explained that Abbas sees Turkey as an intermediary that can pressure Hamas to clear the obstacles it created, given the close relationship between the two.

He explained that Turkey’s role will not involve Ankara launching a new initiative, saying, “It is an attempt to resolve the differences on reconciliation based on the 2011 Cairo Agreement, and no other mediator can take Egypt's place as an essential party in reconciliation.”

While Makboul stressed that Turkey’s role will not be a substitute for Egyptian sponsorship, he noted, “Egypt's action against the PA’s policies toward Gaza delays Palestinian reconciliation instead of moving it forward.”

Hamas leader Yahya Moussa welcomed the Turkish move. He told Al-Monitor, “Turkey can contribute greatly to bringing Hamas and Fatah closer together. Hamas is fully prepared to be cooperative with Turkey's role.” But Moussa said Hamas has lost faith in Abbas and is worried that Abbas' request for Turkey to intervene is a political tactic to counter the understandings Hamas reached with dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan in Cairo.

“In any event, we hope Abbas' intentions will be sincere, but at the outset he must take back all punitive measures he imposed on Gaza as a gesture of goodwill,” he said.

Moussa ruled out the possibility of Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, visiting Turkey anytime soon to discuss reconciliation, noting that the Hamas leaders residing in Turkey will represent the movement in coordinating with Turkish parties.

Asked whether the relationship between Hamas and Dahlan will be negatively affected by the move, Moussa said, “We are open to dealing with all Palestinians, and reconciliation cannot affect our relationship with any party.”

Mustafa al-Sawaf, a political analyst and former editor-in-chief for the Hamas-affiliated Felesteen newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “Turkey has strong credentials and attributes that make it an appropriate mediator to end the Palestinian division. It has a good relationship with both sides of the division and an influential relationship with Israel — which tries to thwart any attempt to complete Palestinian reconciliation — as well as a good regional presence.”

However, Sawaf also stressed that Turkey cannot take on Egypt's role in the reconciliation. “The Turkish role will be supplementary to the Egyptian role, and I think Hamas and Fatah understand this very well,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Talal Okal, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that Abbas is turning toward Turkey with the aim of pulling the rug from under the feet of Hamas and Dahlan and to undermine the understandings they reached under the auspices of Cairo. Abbas’ move represents an attempt to undermine Egypt and the UAE's opening up toward Gaza, which came within the framework of preparing for Dahlan’s return to the strip, he added.

Okal downplayed the impact of the reconciliation process on the Hamas-Dahlan rapprochement, saying, “I think that the main option for Hamas is Dahlan, not reconciliation with Abbas, because Hamas does not trust Abbas, who continues to impose punitive measures on Gaza.”

He stressed that Egypt has not abandoned its sponsorship of the reconciliation. "But it was not pleased with Abbas’ actions against Gaza either. This is why it is trying to use the economic concessions it made to the Strip to pressure Abbas to put an end to his sanctions.”

Palestinians hope the Turkish role will lead to real results and an end to this dark period that has persisted since 2007. However, Okal believes that Abbas' punitive actions against Gaza and Hamas’ failure to dissolve its administrative committee in Gaza will make Turkey's job exceedingly difficult.

Found in: egyptian-palestinian relations, palestinian-turkish relations, recep tayyip erdogan, palestinian leadership, mahmoud abbas, turkish influence in the middle east, fatah-hamas split, fatah-hamas reconciliation, hamas

Rasha Abou Jalal is a writer and freelance journalist from Gaza specializing in political news and humanitarian and social issues linked to current events.

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