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Erdogan Goes to Gaza

The split between the two Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas is deepening as more Middle Eastern governments turn to support Hamas. Last week the emir of Qatar made waves with a visit to Gaza, and now Turkish Prime Minister plans to follow suit. The New York Times reports:

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.”

This is good news for Hamas, but it comes at a rough time for the Palestinian Authority, which is struggling with financial issues, internal divisions, and a lack of international support for “non-member state” status at the UN.

Some experts predict that Turkey may help Fatah with its UN bid as a counterweight to its support for Hamas. Historically Turkey has maintained strong ties with Gaza even while donating to the Palestinian Authority.

But this time may be different, as Turkey’s prime minister is particularly sympathetic to Hamas. Generally speaking, Hamas, with its more confrontational approach to Israel and its Islamist roots, is more in tune with other Middle Eastern countries and their publics than is the secular, pro-peace leadership of Fatah. Erdogan is eager to boost Turkey’s profile (and his own) in the broader Middle East, and a close relationship with Hamas is beginning to look like a political winner, at least within the region.

Meanwhile, as Fatah’s position weakens, a debate about whether to support it is breaking out in Israel. But Israel’s dilemma is essentially unchanged. The two rival forces in the Palestinian movement take different stands toward negotiations with Israel. Fatah is ready to make a compromise to achieve permanent peace with Israel but is probably too weak to make that peace stick. Hamas may be better able to deliver on its commitments, but it isn’t willing yet to contemplate a permanent peace that legitimizes Israel’s presence in the region and guarantees its frontiers. The most optimistic outlook is that the new support for Hamas comes from governments in the region who will use their influence to nudge Hamas toward a softer position with Israel in the name of enhancing regional stability, but optimists have a poor track record in the Middle East.

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