Is There a Long-term Israel-Hamas Agreement in the Works?

An advisor to Turkey's prime minister says progress has been made on an accord. Such a deal would remove the last obstacle in normalizing Israel-Turkey relations.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Turkey's Erdogan meets Hamas' Meshal in Ankara, September 30, 2012.
Turkey's Erdogan meets Hamas' Meshal in Ankara, September 30, 2012.Credit: AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

In an interview with a Gazan newspaper, an advisor to Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu has said that he is expecting “a comprehensive agreement between Hamas and Israel." This agreement, he said, "Will solve the issues of the blockade, opening the [border] crossings and the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.”

Speaking with the Gaza-based newspaper Al-Risala, Yasin Aktay also noted that when a Hamas delegation led by Khaled Meshal, head of the organization’s political bureau, visited Turkey last Thursday, one of the issues discussed was Turkey’s relationship with Israel. Aktay said that negotiations with Jerusalem over compensation for Israel’s botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in 2010, in which 10 Turkish nationals were killed, “have made great progress, and the issue is likely to be resolved very soon.”

Turkish sources told Haaretz that during a private meeting between Meshal and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two men discussed the possibility of building a port in the Gaza Strip and creating a naval “safe passage” between Gaza and Northern Cyprus that would be controlled by Turkey, which also be responsible for conducting security checks of the ships. According to reports in the Arab media, any such agreement between Israel and Hamas would also produce a long-term cease-fire lasting eight to 10 years.

Islamic Jihad would apparently be willing to join the agreement, which its leaders discussed with senior Hamas officials at a three-hour meeting Sunday.

On Tuesday, a high-level Hamas delegation headed by Ismail Haniyeh, Fawzi Barhoum and Khalil al-Hayya is supposed to head for Egypt, where it will meet with the head of Egyptian intelligence to discuss rehabilitating the organization’s relationship with Cairo. Egypt hasn’t yet officially approved the delegation’s visit, but if it does take place, then afterward, the delegation will also visit Qatar and Turkey.

Reports of the expected agreement between Hamas and Israel have been appearing for several weeks now. But the statement by the Turkish prime minister’s advisor appears to indicate that real progress has been made, and perhaps even that agreement has been reached on the principles, and the sides are now working on drafting a detailed document.

The talks apparently received new impetus after Meshal’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month, even though Riyadh insisted it was merely a courtesy visit that had no diplomatic purpose. Ever since the new king, Salman, was crowned in January, Saudi Arabia has developed a new regional strategy whose goal is to create a “Sunni axis” to block Iran’s influence.

As part of this strategy, Riyadh has nurtured relations with Turkey – to Egypt’s great displeasure. And it sees returning Hamas, once a protégé of Iran, to the “Arab bosom” as another element of the battle against Tehran.

The question is what Egypt’s position will be. Under Saudi pressure, Cairo did rescind the decision to label Hamas a terrorist organization. But fully restoring relations with Hamas would mean strengthening the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, and would thus undermine Egypt’s battle against the Brotherhood.

On the other hand, Cairo would have trouble rejecting a Saudi demand to restore relations with Hamas and open the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, because Egypt’s economic dependence on Riyadh just keeps growing. If Egypt does allow the Hamas delegation to visit Cairo, this will apparently be a clear signal that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi has been forced to change his policy and start addressing the Gaza issue, which he has avoided ever since hosting a conference of donor states to Gaza in October 2014.

An agreement to build a port in Gaza – which would likely be funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia – creating naval passage to Northern Cyprus would remove the last obstacle standing in the way of normalized Israel-Turkey relations. For Turkey, such an agreement would be considered a significant achievement, as its long-standing opposition to the Israeli blockade on Gaza has shaped its policies both toward Israel, and the Palestinian issue. A port in Northern Cyprus would give Turkey full control over maritime commerce to and from Gaza. Because Northern Cyprus does not have diplomatic ties with most nations in the world, any merchandise taken there from Gaza would ultimately have to pass through Turkish ports before reaching final destinations.

The hidden paradox in such an agreement is that the Israeli-Arab front against Iran would force Israel to adopt a diplomatic agreement with Hamas and improve ties with Turkey without harming relations with Egypt. An agreement of this kind, which does not force Israel to halt settlement construction or evacuate land, has many advantages for Israel, as it would end to international pressure to cease the blockade on Gaza and diffuse the economic time bombs that will likely push Gaza past the boiling point. If such an agreement becomes reality, the biggest losers are likely to be Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah leadership, as independent economic development in Gaza under Hamas leadership would be a de facto cut in ties between the two.

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