On May 16, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to go through with a planned trip to the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip in June. Flanked by US President Barack Obama at the White House, Erdogan expressed “hope that my visit can contribute to the process [of establishing a Palestinian state].”
He then insisted—while standing next to the leader of the free world, whose country has designated Hamas a terror organization—that both Turkey and the US were “determined to fight jointly against terrorism.”
This blatant hypocrisy is apparently reconciled, rather problematically, by statements made by Erdogan just last month, in which he reiterated his position that “it is out of the question for [Turkey] to consider Hamas as a terrorist organization.” Rather, the Turkish leader has in the past described Hamas as a “resistance [group] fighting for their own land.”
During his press conference with Obama, Erdogan further declared that “a negotiating table where Hamas…is not represented cannot produce peace.… For us, Hamas is what [PA President Mahmoud Abbas’] Fatah is.” This was followed by a reaffirmation the next day that “the process of unity between Fatah and Hamas, this has to be achieved;” otherwise, he said, “I don’t believe that a solution or result will come out of Israeli-Palestinian discussions.”
Given the supposed US opposition to Erdogan’s plans, it is difficult to fathom that Obama could not have persuaded Erdogan to forego his trip to Gaza. The administration, after all, was in the position of obliging various Turkish security requests with respect to the implosion in Syria—as it did, for example, by agreeing to deploy NATO Patriot missiles along Turkey’s border with Syria earlier this year—in exchange for that quid pro quo from Erdogan. Obama could also have applied direct pressure on Erdogan, as was the case when he recently strong-armed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into apologizing to Turkey for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.
That Obama did not see fit to use similar pressure tactics in this instance, which contravenes an oft-declared US policy, suggests he does not, in reality, have any serious reservations about the proposed visit.
While in Israel in March, Obama offered a window into his thinking process. In his much-heralded speech in Jerusalem, the US president mentioned both Hamas and Hezbollah, but drew a stark distinction between them.
With respect to Hezbollah, Obama invoked last year’s bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria, saying, “I think about five Israelis who…were blown up because of where they came from; who were robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families. That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is—a terrorist organization. Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians.…”
Regarding Hamas, however, Obama’s tone was markedly different: “When I consider Israel’s security, I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot—children, the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a [Gaza] rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.… That’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
Far from defining Hamas as a terror organization that murders innocent Israelis, Obama instead outlined “expectations” for the legitimization of the intolerable.
Notably, following Obama’s speech, a PA official revealed that the White House was warming up to the possibility of Palestinian reconciliation. Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and senior adviser to Abbas, said that US objections to Hamas-Fatah unification were becoming “less strong.”
Not surprisingly, it was recently announced that the two rival Palestinian factions have agreed on a timeline of three months to join forces. While this may or may not come to pass—all previous reconciliation attempts having failed—the key “take-away” must be that, amidst an ongoing US push for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it is highly unlikely that serious talk of such a rapprochement could proceed without tacit US approval.
Further reinforcing this perception is the summit convened in April by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Arab League foreign ministers regarding the possible resumption of the peace process. Heading the Arab delegation was Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country is one of Hamas’ strongest proponents and which has, over the past two years, spearheaded attempts to incorporate Hamas into a Palestinian unity government.
To this end, Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani became, in March, the first head of state to travel to the Strip since Hamas seized power in 2007. The visit, during which the emir pledged $400 million to Gaza’s rulers, prompted Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor to issue the following statement: “It is quite strange that the emir of Qatar should choose sides within the Palestinian camp, and choose the wrong side while he is at it.” Accordingly, it is inconceivable that Qatar does not envision Hamas playing a prominent role in bringing about, and then governing, any future Palestinian state.
It is equally implausible that the Obama administration is oblivious of the Sheik’s position.
Efforts to whitewash Hamas are thus being conducting on two parallel tracks. First, with the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ having brought to power Sunni Islamist governments across the Middle East and North Africa (including Hamas’ progenitor the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), through attempts by regional leaders to engender an allied Sunni front, including Hamas; a most predictable development.
Second, and far more distressing, is the apparent policy shift to the same end by various Western countries, including the US. This seems predicated on the fact that an increasing number of Western exponents of the two-state solution have finally concluded that this paradigm is unworkable so long as the Palestinians themselves are divided politically between Gaza and the West Bank. Moreover, these professional “a-peace-ers” appear to have belatedly realized that forging an end-of-conflict agreement is impossible when much of the Palestinian population supports, and is governed by, an overtly genocidal faction.
True to form, however, instead of accepting the obvious—that Hamas’ annihilationist agenda precludes peace with Israel—their new “solution” appears aimed at gradually rebranding an increasingly legitimized Hamas as “moderate” (which it is patently not) as a prelude to incorporating it into the diplomatic process. (If this sounds eerily familiar, it is how Israel got stuck dealing with arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat in the early ‘90s).
Cognisant that this charade cannot be tolerated, the government dispatched night none other than dovish Justice Minister and primary liaison to the Palestinians Tzipi Livni to reaffirm Israel’s position; namely, that there is no chance of reaching a peace agreement with Hamas.
Although an important first step, Livni’s lone interview with Army Radio is grossly inadequate to convey the government’s stance on such a paramount issue.
For while her message goes largely unheard (if not discounted altogether) outside of Israel, the Hamas politburo continues to lobby foreign governments discretely in order to have it delisted as a terror organization; this, in the aftermath of a major policy speech in December by Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, in which he proclaimed that “the time has come for the US and EU to remove Hamas from the list of designated terrorist organizations.”
To counter the emergent trend, Israel must mobilize its diplomatic forces and use all means necessary to ensure Haniyeh’s wish is never granted.
The author, a freelance journalist, recently made aliya from Canada.
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