Turkey and Qatar give warm embrace to Hamas leaders

Turkey and Qatar are key allies, both of which host Iranian delegations and are involved in supporting Hamas in Gaza and working on regional collaboration including supporting the Libyan government.

Palestinian Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City February 28, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City February 28, 2019
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani smiled widely as he met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh on Monday.
Their meeting came days after Hamas got a warm welcome in Turkey, where its delegation met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkey and Qatar are key allies, both of which host Iranian delegations and are involved in supporting Hamas in Gaza and working on regional collaboration including supporting the Tripoli-based Libyan government.
The Hamas visit to Turkey and Qatar appear more like a victory lap for the group than a random trip. The high-level reception the delegation received illustrates Ankara and Doha see Hamas as if it is a state, as opposed to a terror group based in Gaza. Qatar has hosted Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in the past.
No other non-state actors in the world appear to receive the reception Hamas gets in Turkey and Qatar.
The trip is part of a major Hamas delegation that is traveling the globe. According to reports it includes not only Haniyeh, but also wanted terrorist Saleh al-Arouri and Maher Saleh, Mousa Abu Marzouq, Nizar Awadallah and Izzat al-Risheq.
Turkey and Qatar view Hamas as having a role in their regional Middle East strategy. Turkey has been seeking to increase its role in the Middle East in recent years – launching offensives into Syria, carrying out bombing raids in Iraq and building a military base in Qatar and Somalia. It even tried to lease an island in Sudan and wants to send the Turkish army to Libya. It sent drones to northern Cyprus this week and harassed an Israeli research ship. For Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), Hamas is a natural ally because both have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. When the Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in 2012, Turkey was a key ally of leader Mohamed Morsi. Morsi was overthrown in 2013, and Ankara was outraged. For Turkey, Hamas is one of many armed extremist groups, similar to those it has recruited in Syria that help extend its influence.
Turkey has a long-term interest in Gaza. In 2010, allies of Turkey’s ruling party tried to sail a large flotilla to Gaza and attacked Israeli special forces who boarded and stopped their ship the Mavi Marmara. Ankara has also sought to champion the Palestinian cause, comparing Israel to Nazi Germany at the UN in September and holding frequent meetings to condemn Israel’s actions. In November, Turkey slammed new Israeli housing projects in the West Bank, even as it was embarking on its own settlement and housing endeavors in Syria. On December 9, after hosting the Hamas delegation, Turkey claimed to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that Ankara was alone in the region in supporting the Palestinians.
Hamas feels some wind back in its sails after the Turkey meetings. It appears more relevant than the aging leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas wants to go to Malaysia, where the antisemitic Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will greet the delegation warmly, and also to Kuwait, Lebanon and elsewhere. Malaysia, Turkey and Qatar are key allies, and Turkey’s president has suggested working with Malaysia to create an Islamic TV channel.
Since March 2018, Hamas has led demonstrations in the Gaza Strip under the banner of the Great Return March. Hundreds have been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, and over 2,600 rockets have been fired from Hamas-run Gaza. At the same time, Israel has permitted Qatar to send financial support to the Gaza Strip. This is to keep the area from collapsing, but it also helps keep Hamas in power.
Israel and Hamas may see eye to eye on a few things, even if Hamas is a terrorist group responsible for many of the worst attacks on Israel in the 1990s and early 2000s. For instance, Hamas did not react when Israel launched Operation Black Belt in November against Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Even though Islamic Jihad and Hamas both have support from Iran, it is PIJ that acts on Iran’s orders. Israel sought to bifurcate the two groups, and successfully did so after a year in which PIJ was provoking Jerusalem. Iran’s Javad Zarif phoned the PIJ leader twice after Black Belt ended, praising their resistance. Hamas was more quiet, planning its December trip and not wanting to rock the boat. According to reports, Hamas leader Haniyeh met PIJ leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah in Cairo before going to Turkey.
In fact, Hamas’ December trip may be linked to Black Belt, enabling it to portray itself as responsible and able to come to a ceasefire agreement so long as it can trot around the globe appearing as if it is the “Palestinian” state. The Palestinian Authority is nonplussed. Its aging leadership under Mahmoud Abbas received none of the red carpet Hamas experienced recently, and it is being pressured into elections. Its few remaining friends, such as Jordan and some links to the Gulf and Europe, are not offering much moral or financial support.
Hamas briefed the Turkish and Qatari leaders on news in Jerusalem, the desire for elections and claims about reports regarding Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements. Hamas also spoke to Qataris about the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Likely, it wants more than the $30 million a month its gets from Qatar. Al-Jazeera reports that Hamas may try to meet with Indonesian and Pakistani officials in Malaysia. There may be a summit there with Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia. Hamas wants to improve relations with Mauritania as well.
The Hamas trip represents the bolstering of an existing alliance and an attempt to energize this Palestinian group in the wake of various crises in the region, such as the Arab Spring, Syrian civil war, rise and fall of ISIS and US-Iran tensions. The US is still talking about the “Deal of the Century,” so by Turkey and Qatar pumping up Hamas, there can appear to be more to throw into the US deal and thus sabotage or sidetrack it. The US, however, is in a delicate position because it needs Turkey to deal with issues in northern Syria, and it needs Qatar, which is hosting talks with the Taliban and a US base. Turkey has threatened to close another US base, and the US administration is beholden to Ankara and Doha. Criticism that Qatar hosted Hamas in the past has evaporated, and the Trump administration, which supported Israel deeply, does not appear concerned about the Hamas welcome in Turkey and Qatar.
The emerging regional stance will include a united front of Qatar-Turkey with Hamas as the junior partner, likely partnered tangentially with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, Northern Cyprus, the Tripoli government of Libya, and Malaysia and Pakistan far in the distance, with Iran involved as well. Saudi Arabia has been working to remove Pakistan from this equation. The Palestinian authority will be weakened and forced into elections. Turkey and Qatari prestige are on the line with Hamas, and the more they can show they work with Hamas, the more leverage they have, not only over Israel, but also over the US and other countries involved in the peace process.