Turkish Leader Says He Plans A Trip To Gaza Soon

by
staff
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Friday that he planned to visit the Gaza Strip soon, a move that would significantly enhance the legitimacy of the Hamas-controlled Gaza government and antagonize the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the West.

GAza

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Friday that he planned to visit the Gaza Strip soon, a move that would significantly enhance the legitimacy of the Hamas-controlled Gaza government and antagonize the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the West.

Mr. Erdogan, who twice last year scheduled and then canceled visits to Gaza, did not offer specifics about the timing or agenda for such a visit, which he mentioned to reporters traveling with him to Ankara from Berlin, according to the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman. A Foreign Ministry official later said that the prime minister was simply expressing an “intention,” and that he wanted to visit “someday.”

Mr. Erdogan’s comments came nine days after the emir of Qatar became the first head of state to set foot in Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007, pledging $400 million for development projects, including housing complexes, road renovation and a prosthetics hospital. The crown prince of Bahrain was scheduled to visit the Palestinian enclave on Thursday but canceled at the last minute to avoid political repercussions, according to reports in the Arab news media.

A visit by the leader of Turkey, a huge power that is a member of NATO and a critical bridge between the West and the Islamic world, would make a much bigger diplomatic splash, paving the way for Egypt and other countries to expand direct, independent relationships with Hamas and further dividing the Palestinian leadership. Officials in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas rival that governs in the West Bank, had warned that the Qatari mission would set a dangerous precedent.

“We are against all these visits,” President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said in an interview that was recorded before Mr. Erdogan’s comments and was broadcast on Friday night by Channel 2 News in Israel. “If they want to help Gaza, they should come through the authorities, through the legal authority.”

Both Turkey and Qatar have tried to help repair the rift between Hamas and Fatah, the dominant party in the West Bank, and some analysts suggested that Mr. Erdogan might make such reconciliation a focus if he visited. On the plane, according to Today’s Zaman, Mr. Erdogan said that he had once invited Mr. Abbas to accompany him to Gaza, and that “he was warm to the suggestion.” But Yasir Abed Rabbo, Mr. Abbas’s spokesman, balked at that notion in an interview on Friday night, saying: “Nobody can invite us to go to our own country. This is unacceptable.”

Turkey has been a strong ally and a significant donor to the Palestinian Authority, but also an important friend of Gaza. A Turkish-led flotilla’s attempt in 2010 to break Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza ended in an Israeli raid that killed nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara. That episode, in turn, led to the downgrading of diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey, which in May indicted four high-ranking Israeli officials over their roles in the raid.

The renewed attention on Gaza comes at a critical time for the Palestinian Authority. Allies of Mr. Abbas are feverishly trying to garner international support for a bid to gain “nonmember state” status in the United Nations General Assembly. The Palestinian Authority is struggling with a financial crisis that led its prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to suggest this week that his cabinet could be dissolved and reformed. And municipal elections last month revealed growing rivalries within Fatah.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Ehud Yaari, a Middle East analyst for Channel 2 News, said of Mr. Erdogan’s plan. “The P.A. has been steadily losing support in the Arab world. It is losing its cohesion. They are losing ground.”

Alon Liel, who led Israel’s diplomatic mission to Turkey in the 1980s, said a visit by Mr. Erdogan would “dramatically change the image of the regime” in Gaza, and “deepen the grievances that the Israeli public has towards Turkey.” But he predicted that Mr. Erdogan would try to “compensate” the Palestinian Authority by helping with its United Nations bid.

“Erdogan feels closer to Hamas than to Fatah because Hamas is religious,” Mr. Liel said. “By definition, he will always prefer a religious leadership to a secular leadership. But it’s important for him not to humiliate Abbas. He will try to balance it.”

Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank who formerly served as a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, agreed, noting that Mr. Abbas had recently visited Turkey.

“If these countries are maintaining good official relations with the P.A. and the P.L.O. and at the same time giving support to Gaza, including going to Gaza, I don’t see that this is problematic,” Mr. Khatib said. “Giving support to Gaza can also be understood as an attempt to help this part of Palestinians that are facing especially difficult pressure.”