Can Erdogan shed his hypocrisy and play a constructive role in Israel-Palestine conflict?

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Gaza, Hamas, Palestinian, Israeli Image credit: TASS

Turkey’s President Erdogan could have emerged from the Israel-Hamas war as a peacemaker. Instead, being absorbed by fake piety, hypocrisy, and folly, he chose to fan the flames of the horrific war, further poisoning the atmosphere and intensifying the hostility and hatred between Israel and the Palestinians. Can Erdogan shed his hypocrisy and play a constructive role?

Whenever I write about Turkey’s President Erdogan, I find it hard to articulate what kind of legacy this man wants to leave behind. He had every opportunity to become a great leader of a great nation but miserably failed. His self-aggrandizement, fake religious zeal, and ever-growing lust for power prevented him from discerning what was best for his country and how to become a constructive and truthful leader, admired and respected at home and abroad, which he so desperately desired. Among his many failings, Erdogan missed one other significant opportunity that could have made him emerge as a regional peacemaker above all others.

Instead of using his good offices to seize on the changing paradigm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting from Hamas’s horrific attack on Israeli communities, which led to the tragically unfolding Israel-Hamas war, and strive toward reconciliation between the two sides, he chose to foment greater hatred and resistance against Israel. He is a hypocrite, trying to exploit the tragic Israel-Hamas war only to enhance his bogus Islamic credentials.

Not once has he condemned Hamas’ butchering of 1,200 innocent Israelis, but he did not hesitate to accuse the Israeli government of committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. And with his customary scorn for Israel, he unabashedly told members of his Justice and Development Party, “I say clearly that Israel is a terror state; we are faced with a genocide.” At the same time, he stressed that “We will continue to see our Hamas brothers, who defend their homeland against occupiers, as the National Resistance of Palestine.”

If such a statement—spewed from the mouth of a leader whose country committed genocide against nearly two million Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Greeks, and who is incarcerating tens of thousands of citizens while waging a relentless campaign against the PKK and the Syrian Kurdish community—is not the highest of hypocrisy, then what is?

Meanwhile, notwithstanding his withdrawal of Turkey’s ambassador from Israel, he continues to trade with Israel in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Once again, he put his duplicity on full display, stating that Turkey is the only country that imposes trade restrictions on Israel for 54 products. What a big “sacrifice” coming from a self-proclaimed Islamist who presumably cares so much about “his Palestinian brothers” by banning the import of 54 Israeli products.

I mention the above to put in context what Erdogan could have done differently to help advance a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially because Turkey recognized Israel in 1949, only a year after the country’s establishment, and has maintained diplomatic relations, albeit with some ups and downs, ever since. Over the years, tourism and trade between the two countries skyrocketed. Moreover, Israel helped upgrade much of Turkey’s air force while providing it with advanced technology for both military and civilian use. To be sure, regardless of Erdogan’s erratic behavior and his support of Hamas, Israel greatly valued its relations with Turkey because of the above and due to Ankara’s geostrategic importance.

Erdogan and Hamas leaders have also enjoyed good relations, going back to the time Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007. There was an instant affinity between them, as both saw themselves as devout Sunni Islamists sharing the same religious values. Other than Shiite Iran, Hamas needed the support of a significant Sunni Muslim state with strong Western ties. At the same time, Erdogan sought to interject himself into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and portray himself as the protector of the Palestinian cause, from which he could drive prestige and exert significant influence.

To that end, he offered both financial support as well as a refuge for Hamas leaders, enabling them to operate from his country without any impediment or fear of being targeted by Israel. He further provided Turkish citizenship to senior Hamas leaders and wholeheartedly embraced them, even while Hamas was openly calling for Israel’s destruction. Nevertheless, Erdogan was able to maintain good relations with both Israel and Hamas even though they viewed each other as an existential threat.

It is these relationships with Israel and Hamas that Erdogan managed to preserve over the years that gave him a rare opportunity and advantage to, at a minimum, assist in mitigating Hamas’ conflict with Israel, especially at this juncture in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war and its unfolding calamity.

Whereas Erdogan vehemently opposes the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade over Gaza, he also understands that Israel will not relinquish control over either territory as long as Hamas and other extremist Palestinians call for its destruction. He could have made it clear to Hamas’ leaders that even though successive Israeli leaders know that Hamas will never be in a position to destroy their country, they use Hamas’ narrative to justify the occupation and the blockade in the name of national security.

Erdogan also knows that Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is not one of many options; it is the only option. Whether or not Hamas accepts this reality, there is nothing they can do about it. No one has more credibility with Hamas than Erdogan, who has earned their trust over the years for his unimpeachable backing and his defiance of the international community’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist group, as he views them as a national liberation movement.

Israel may succeed in preventing Hamas from reconstituting itself as the governing authority in Gaza. But Hamas as a political movement will certainly persevere because it stood up to Israel, which has changed the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and created a new paradigm, making it impossible to return to the status quo that existed before October 7, 2023.

Turkey is the only country that recognizes and maintains diplomatic relations with Israel and, at the same time, enjoys warm relations with Hamas. Erdogan can utilize his unique position to start a conversation with Hamas leaders and awaken them to the reality of Israel from which they cannot escape. Israeli-Palestinian relations have indeed reached their nadir, and they have not been as poisonous as they currently are since 1948. But then, when there is a breakdown in a relationship of such magnitude, it also offers a historic opportunity for a breakthrough.

Hamas has successfully, though in a horrific way, changed the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and can claim victory even though they are being crushed in Gaza. Hamas brought back the two-state solution to the table to which the Palestinians badly aspire, and in a bizarre way, Hamas has significantly advanced that prospect.

We do not know with certainty how and when the Gaza war will end, but we certainly know one thing. Both Hamas, in one form or another, and Israel will still be there at the end, and both must choose where they want to go from here. Erdogan now has a golden opportunity to use his influence on Hamas to moderate its position toward Israel, be a peacemaker instead of a warmonger, and open the door, however slightly, to a process of reconciliation, which is a prerequisite to reaching a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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