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Hamas and Turkey: Between lifting the siege and the ceasefire

Talk has been circulating for months regarding the Turks and Israelis reaching an agreement on the three conditions stipulated by the Turkish government on the Israelis in order to restore normal relations between the two countries. This is after the 2010 Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla that set sail from Turkey in an attempt to lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2006.

After the attack, Turkey recalled its ambassador and dismissed the Israeli ambassador from Ankara and refused to restore relations with Israel until it first apologised to Turkey. Israel did apologise after the American President Barack Obama pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do so in 2013.

The second condition was to compensate the families of the 10 Turkish victims, and the two sides agreed on the compensation and it is ready to be implemented. As for the third condition, lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip, an agreement was reached as part of an pact that can be described as economic, as it focuses on enabling the Gaza Strip to establish a naval port through which it can import the ordinary necessities of economic life, including food, medicines, construction supplies, etc.

Despite this agreement being reached, it has not been implemented yet. This opens the door to political speculations regarding the reasons behind this. Some have speculated that Al-Sisi and Mahmoud Abbas are the biggest opponents to lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip, in particular at the hands of the Turks. If the siege must be lifted, then it must be in exchange for Gaza submitting to the authority of Mahmoud Abbas and Al-Sisi's approval of this; i.e. it must be in accordance with the conditions stipulated by Mahmoud Abbas and Al-Sisi, not the conditions of the Turks or the besieged Gazans. Some other speculations claim that the Israelis did not agree to the third condition, i.e. that the Israelis did not agree to lift the siege on Gaza, and that they agreed to alleviate or ease the siege, not allow the establishment of a port. Or they believe that there are disputes regarding the port's location, size and manner of supervision.

In this context, a report issued by the Institute for National Security Studies attributed the fact that the Israeli government still has not announced its official position regarding the acceptance of Turkey's request to establish a naval port in the Gaza Strip to a number of considerations associated with the interests of other players in the area, mainly Egypt and the PA, who refuse the establishment of a port, as well as security issues. This means that the Israeli position on the port is the same as Mahmoud Abbas and Al-Sisi's, and that it is not purely an Israeli position.

There are also those who say that some officials within the Israeli government itself and within the Israeli military institution are calling for the agreement to establishing a naval port in Gaza, including the statement made by the Minister of Housing and Construction, Yoav Galant, who expressed his support for the idea proposed by Communications Minister, Yisrael Katz, regarding the construction of a seaport in Gaza, to avoid the outbreak of a new military confrontation with Hamas.

The same Israeli report indicates that the Israeli government has not yet decided to agree to the establishment of the port, nor has it agreed to engage in new negotiations regarding the issue. This is evidenced by the fact that the report makes proposals to the Israeli government, suggesting it has two alternatives:

First, allow the construction of the seaport inside Gaza City, either on the coast of Gaza or in the sea.

Second, allow the construction of a seaport, but not inside Gaza, but in the Egyptian city of El Arish or in the port of Ashdod, with separate docks for the goods headed for Gaza.

Other reports say that some Israeli officials are advising the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu not to sign the agreement with the Turks to normalise political relations between the two countries at the moment because the Turks need Israel to ease the siege on them after Russia's dispute with them. They also said that the Turks are seeking to alleviate the effects of the Russian siege on Turkey by opening political and international channels with Israel. These reports believe that Vladimir Putin is personally unhappy with the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement at the moment, and that the Russian position is one of the factors delaying the Turkish-Israeli agreement; i.e. local, regional, and international considerations are hindering the lifting of the siege. This proves that the Israeli government is responding to the pressure of Al-Sisi, Putin and Abbas, even if this costs it a delay in restoring its relations with Turkish.

An Israeli report concluded that the Israeli government's decision regarding the establishment of a seaport must take into account three considerations:

  1. That the construction of the seaport will respond to the urgent need of Hamas and the Gazans for the flow of goods, the people's freedom of movement to and from the Gaza Strip, provided that the port does not become another crossing controlled by Israel.
  2. The port must take into account Egyptian and Israeli security concerns. In the event that a third party will monitor the port, it must be supplied with the equipment and technology needed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materials that can be used for other purposes.
  3. The construction of the port must include a degree of diplomatic understanding between the concerned officials in the area, as the seaport agreement must include a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

This reading shows that the Israeli reports aim to guide Israeli public opinion, first and foremost, and they also seek to guide the policy of the Israeli government. Meanwhile, we find other Arab and Turkish readings that focus on negatively criticising the Turkish positions, instead of giving critical, but positive, feedback in order for the Turkish government to benefit from them politically. If we find one Turkish report talking about the need to improve relations with Israel politically in order to alleviate the effect of the Russian siege, to open new markets for Turkish companies, or to put the Turkish-Israeli relations in the balance of the Turkish-Arab relations, we would find those who doubt all of this and interpret a contradiction, betrayal, or other negative matters. However, they do not take into consideration the parties standing against Turkey, the regional and international pressures Turkey is subject to, or its political positions that are in favour of and support the Arab causes, including the cause of the Palestinian people who are suffering under occupation and siege.

The Israeli reports aim to make sure the price of lifting the siege is not limited to just having political relations with Turkey, but it should also include a peace treaty with the Palestinians. If they are unable to reach a peace treaty, then at the very least, they could establish a long-term truce, as Hamas proposes as its vision for its peace process with Israel. Is there anyone providing other Arab or Turkish political visions that aim to preserve the interests of the Arabs and Turks without having verbal bids, which the people have grown sick of over the past years?

Also read:

Gaza Speaks: This is what the decade-long siege has done to us.

Siege deprives Gaza parkour team of international competition.

Freedom Flotilla III sets sail from Sweden to break Gaza siege.

Unemployment in Gaza stands at 60% due to Israeli offensive and siege.

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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