Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Hamas Question

In the wake of the flotilla crisis, Prime Minister Erdogan has been issuing statements supportive of Hamas, characterizing the group as resistance fighters who won an election. These statements not only further heighten tensions with Israel, but also threaten Turkey-United States relations, prompting U.S. State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley to reiterate emphatically that the United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Just as importantly, the prime minister's statements have not gone without domestic criticism.

Turkish critics, many of whom are supportive of strongly condemning Israel's attack on the Mavi Marmara, fear the pro-Hamas rhetoric risks conflating Israel's raid on the Mavi Marmara (an issue between Israel and Turkey) with Israel's relations with Hamas. Some have even gone so far as to argue that Erdogan personally identifies with Hamas, a political organization that has gained popularity with Palestinians in part due to some Palestinians' perception that rival Fatah is elitist, too secularist, and out of touch with the masses.

Hamas, of course welcoming the prime minsiter's statements, has for its part expressed support for Erdogan's political model. Hamas Foreign Minister Ahmad Yusuf recently gave an interview to Hurriyet, more or less comparing Erdogan's politics with that of the Taliban. From the interview:
According to Yusuf, who said he is writing a book called “Erdoğan and a New Strategic Vision,” the Taliban is “opposed to everything,” including education and women’s rights.

“Erdoğan’s model, on the other hand, is liberal. It is a model that dares to take responsibility and change things and establishes good relations between the religious and secular elements of society,” he said. “It is a model that works for democracy and human rights, and supports an open society. That is what we want.”
Yusuf's statements fits within Hamas' broader attempts at what Thanassis Cambanis terms "tunnel diplomacy." From Cambanis'articel in Foreign Affairs:
Since Israel has claimed that it will end the Gaza blockade only if Hamas surrenders power, the movement has been willing to improvise and embrace whatever works -- a merchant’s approach of finding the best deal and then justifying it retroactively.

Hamas has applied the same formula to its diplomatic strategy. It has hedged its bets, alternately hectoring and wooing Egypt, cozying up to Iran and Turkey, and shaming the Gulf petro-states into giving it money and political cover. In January, Gaza’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, chastised Egypt from the minbar at Friday prayers in Gaza City for “losing its compass” and joining the ranks of those who “criminalize the resistance.” The Arabs, he argued, must draw close to Turkey: “We are working to build a new balance against the Israelis in the region.”

Since the 2006 elections, Hamas’ brain trust has been trying to plot a path out of global isolation. Ahmed Yousef leads the effort, drawing on his experience running an Islamic think tank in what he calls the “paradise” of Washington, D.C., for more than a decade. The number-two official in Hamas’ foreign ministry in Gaza, he is at once a consummate politician and a fierce defender of Hamas’ resistance ideology. He may be a conciliator, but he is no moderate.

“We want the West to understand it can do business with us,” he told me in January during a long conversation in his Gaza City office. “They want to know if we are more like the Taliban or like [Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. They will see that we are closer to Erdogan. We are flexible.”

Diplomatically, Hamas has cast a wide net. The group has launched Web sites in English and Turkish and has dispatched senior officials to meet with any influential Westerners willing to talk, in public or in secret. Now, Hamas is benefiting from the results of its diplomatic groundwork. The flotilla that it did not organize has played right to Hamas’ strategy, earning it a spate of attention and summoning international pressure on Israel to loosen the blockade.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Hamas began in 2006 when a five-man delegation headed by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visited Ankara.

Not writing about the AKP government's identification with Hamas, bur rather the Palestinians as a whole, Orhan Kemal Cengiz had a provocative column yesterday in Today's Zaman. An excerpt:
Erdoğan’s defense of human rights of the Palestinians is based on identification. This makes him reactionary and prevents him from playing a vital role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since he could not rise above the problem, his way of engaging with the Palestinian question has the serious potential of making Turkey a part of the problem, rather than contributing to a solution.

Can we contribute to the solution of this problem if we turn a blind eye to the sins of Hamas, which is responsible for grave human right violations, has created an oppressive regime in Gaza and has killed many innocent victims in its endless suicide attacks? Can we seriously and effectively defend the rights of the Palestinians while we are turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Darfur and in Iran?

Can we be taken seriously when we try to draw attention to the war crimes Israel has committed in Gaza while we still refrain from endorsing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court?

Erdoğan and his government could be a perfect mediator between Israelis and Palestinians if they end this identification. I cannot imagine any other government in the world which could show Hamas that their obsession with the extinction of Israel is actually one of the biggest obstacles to the solution of this problem. I cannot imagine any other government which could convince Iran and Syria that they could peacefully coexist with a peaceful Israel in the region.

But instead we will witness the dance of anger for a while.

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