Hamas activity in Turkey an obstacle to Ankara-Jerusalem reconciliation

By
December 21, 2015 23:08

Hamas' Saleh al-Arouri left Turkey months ago after intensive US, Israeli pressure, but on Monday an official in Jerusalem said with regard to the two states reconciling, “The ball is still in play."

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Khaled Meshaal

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal [File]. (photo credit:YASIN BULBUL / TURKISH PRIME MINISTER OFFICE / AFP)

The shutting down of Hamas’s operations in Turkey is emerging as one of the sticking points preventing the signing of an agreement normalizing ties between Israel and Turkey, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Likud faction on Monday that a rapprochement with Turkey is not yet a done deal, echoing comments made a day earlier by a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party.

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The PMO issued a statement last Thursday saying that Israeli officials, led by incoming Mossad head Yossi Cohen, had met with Turkish representatives and reached understandings that would pave the way for a normalization of ties between the two countries, and an exchange of ambassadors. That statement stressed, however, that the understandings still had to be signed.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries went into a tailspin following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.

According to the PMO statement, one of the points agreed upon was that Hamas terrorist Saleh al-Arouri would not be allowed back into Turkey, and that his operations there would end. But, the Post has learned, the issue is not only about Arouri, but also about Hamas offices in Turkey in general.

Hamas head Khaled Mashaal held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday.

A Hamas source told the London based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper on Monday that Arouri left Turkey several months ago following intensive American and Israeli pressure. The source said Arouri was now shuttling between Qatar and Lebanon.

“He decided to leave Turkey voluntarily so as not to embarrass Turkey, which was facing big pressure from Israel and the US administration,” the source said, adding that Turkey has not imposed restraints on Hamas activities or their officials living in the country. He also denied that Turkey banned Arouri from entering the country.

Arouri, considered by Jerusalem to be behind the kidnapping and murder of the three youth in Gush Etzion in 2014, was deported from the West Bank to Turkey in 2010, and according to Israel set up a command post in Turkey, manned in part by Hamas terrorists released in the deal for Gilad Schalit.

Hamas’s operation in Turkey is just one of the issues that still have to be worked out. In addition, Turkey has demanded that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza, something Jerusalem has made clear it is unwilling to do. Also, the final details of the compensation fund for the families of the nine Turks killed on the Mavi Marmara – believed to be some $20 million – still need to be worked out.

“The ball is still in play,” one official in Jerusalem said.

Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said they were closely monitoring the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement and expressed hope that Erdogan would not abandon his conditions, especially with regards to lifting the blockade on Gaza.

Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official, said Monday that the news about the possible normalization of ties was “not happy news” unless Israel lifted the blockade.

In Ankara, meanwhile, AK spokesman Omer Celik said Sunday that “an agreement has not been finalized yet.”

“A deal has not been signed yet. We are working on a draft. There is no doubt that the Israeli state and its people are friends of Turkey. The criticism we have made so far has been about Israel’s extreme behaviors that we don’t deem as legitimate,” Celik said.

“Turkey has three precise conditions for normalizing ties – an apology, compensation and the lifting of an embargo on Gaza. Our first condition is fulfilled but the remaining two have not been met yet.

Therefore, our people should know we have no doubt that this draft will be shaped within these parameters,” he said.

“A deal has not been signed yet. Talks will continue until an agreement is finalized. During this period, we will observe whether these three conditions are met or not. This will be our requirement,” he added.

On Monday, the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman said Celik’s comments calling Israel and its people “Turkey’s friends” marked a “radical shift in the government’s discourse toward the Jewish state in a sharp departure from the approach of the past five years loaded with heavy anti-Israel rhetoric and insults.”

The paper reported that Celik was slammed for his comment on Twitter accounts, with some saying this statement did not represent the party’s position, and others questioning the government’s hypocrisy.

“Over the past five years, AK Party officials and Erdogan used anti-Israeli sentiment throughout all its election campaigns to mobilize its conservative voters,” the paper wrote. “The terms ‘Israeli’ and ‘Jew’ were wielded as weapons against whole swathes of society accusing people with a different worldview of being ‘servants of Israel’ or ‘Israeli spies.’” Reuters contributed to this report.

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