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Turkey's policy on Hamas: common grounds and differences

By Furkan Torlak

"Even if Turkey's Hamas policy has some common ground with European Union countries, it has differences when we consider it in the context of the Middle East peace process and Arab-Israel conflict."

The officials and politicians behind Turkey's foreign policies believe that Hamas came to power through the 2006 general elections with the approval of the US and Israel. Officials including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Foreign Ministry Under-secretary and Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu are adamant that Hamas won 44% of the votes cast and so should be accepted as the winners. The election was, after all, transparent, free and fair; exactly the sort of democratic process demanded by America and the Israelis.

Turkey maintains that the root cause of instability in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict and believes that solutions can only be found through peaceful dialogue. On this point Turkey says that it is essential to have the active participation of the Palestinian people in the peace process; even the Israelis acknowledge that this is important if the Palestinian Authority is to convince its citizens to accept any future peace agreement. However, Turkey also emphasises the fact that Hamas is a significant factor in Palestinian society, regardless of whether one considers it to be a political party which won democratic elections – which it did – or a "terrorist" organisation, and as such it should be included in the discussions and negotiations for peace. Failure to do this, says the Turkish government, will leave Hamas no other option but to remain under the influence of Iran, a situation not accepted by the US, Israel or any of the Arab countries, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt's request for Turkey to maintain links with Hamas during Israel's invasion last year supports this view.

In addition, the Turkish government stresses the need for international support for Palestinian reconciliation efforts, which would, naturally, include Hamas. Unity is vital for the Saudi Peace Plan which envisages a "land for peace" agreement with Israel, with recognition of the Jewish state within the 1967 borders.

Of course, we shouldn't think that Turkey accepts Hamas in its entirety and officials urge caution. Turkey encourages Hamas to focus on a political struggle, not a military conflict. In this regard, it was striking that Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Babacan, said during the Gaza invasion, "Hamas should decide whether it wants to be an armed organisation or a political movement." The Palestine Liberation Organization was once classified as a terrorist organization by the US and Israel but after the start of the "peace process" the PLO – in which Fatah is the dominant group was the only Palestinian body that the Israelis would talk to; Fatah now runs the Palestinian Authority. Turkey believes that a similar rapprochement could and should be made with Hamas.

In discussions with President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Turkey's President, Abdullah Gul, has said that he wants to see a resolution in Palestine but one that involves President Abbas, whose authority is recognised by the Turkish government. This may cause some difficulty for unity talks and Turkish support, because Palestinian factions have pointed out that President Abbas' mandate expired in December 2009.

It should also be mentioned that Turkey's Jewish community experienced a lot of unease at the reaction of their fellow Turks to Israeli aggression in Gaza. The Turkish government's spokesperson, Cemil Cicek, tried to defuse the situation by saying, "We don't have any problems with our Judaic citizens or the Israeli people. What we criticize is the policy followed by the Israeli government. We can never have problems with nations. We also don't have problems with the Jewish people. We only criticized the policies of the Israeli government."

Turkey's policy on Hamas doesn't really differ to those of EU counties on the following points considered in the context of the Middle East peace process and Arab-Israel conflict: a) Turkey supports the legitimacy of Mahmud Abbas in Palestine; b) Turkey has strong relations with Israel and it does not question Israel's existence; c) Turkey criticizes Israel's policy towards the Palestinians but doesn't support any policy against the Jewish people per se.

Where Turkey differs with EU countries can be summarised thus: a) Turkey has accepted the results of the democratic elections that took place in Palestine; b) Turkey recognizes Hamas as an effective grassroots movement; c) Turkey wants Hamas to be accepted by the international community; d) Turkey believes that any peace process which excludes Hamas will not last.

It is wrong to say that Turkey is "anti-Semitic" because it wants to see Hamas brought in from the cold. Quite frankly, many EU countries share such opinions and they agree on the necessity of such policies, but international politics at the moment prevents them from saying so openly. That is why Turkey feels the need to push for recognition of Hamas sooner rather than later, so that honesty and openness can play a key role in the peace negotiations.

Furkan Torlak, is a TRT TURK correspondent. He has published articles on Middle East issues, on the Arab-Israel Conflict, Iraq and Lebanon.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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