The long-awaited rapprochement now centres on an unlikely competition for advantage in all but abandoned Gaza Strip.
Gaza Strip – Palestinians in Gaza are sharply divided over the reconciliatory deal signed between Israel and Turkey on Tuesday. While some, including Hamas officials, have described the deal as an opportunity for “a Turkish role to end the siege on Gaza”, others said it was unlikely that the deal would have a profound impact on ending the siege.
“Turkey, motivated by moral and ethical principles, dedicated its efforts to lifting the siege [on Gaza],” wrote Saleh al-Na’iami, a Gaza-based political analyst, a few hours after the deal was announced. “Even after the reconciliation [deal] there’s a significant downgrading of ties with Israel compared with before Erdogan ascended to power.”
Others, such as Palestinian writer and activist Refaat Alareer, disagreed. He believes that the Gaza blockade has been used “to whitewash the deal”.
For the past nine years, Israel has imprisoned and policed Gaza via what Palestinian analysts describe as ’19th-century colonisation policies’, keeping nearly two million civilians spatially contained with neither a present nor a future. The blockade has prevented the reconstruction of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals, power plants and water networks destroyed during successive Israeli military offensives in 2008 to 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Israel also keeps effective control over entry and exit into Gaza, its air space and sea, as well as its population registry, telecommunications networks and many other aspects of daily life and infrastructure.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticised Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip during a visit to the Palestinian territory. Ban said that “the closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts.
“It’s a collective punishment for which there must be accountability,” he added.
The deal ends a six-year rupture that was brought about after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish aid ship in May 2010 and killed 10 Turkish activists on board.
According to the deal, Israel offered its apologies for the 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara activist ship – one of Ankara’s three conditions for a deal. It also agreed to pay out $20m to the bereaved and injured.
Under the deal, Turkey is required to pass legislation protecting Israeli soldiers against related lawsuits. Also, Turkey has waived a demand for the removal of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip. Israel would enable Turkey to set up infrastructure projects in Gaza, including the construction of a hospital, a power station and a desalination facility. All the materials for these projects would be transported via Israel’s Ashdod Port.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the Israeli embargo on Gaza has been “largely lifted” as part of the reconciliation deal.
A first shipment of 10,000 tonnes would be sent next Friday, he said, and work would begin immediately to tackle Gaza’s water and power supply crisis.
“Our Palestinian brothers in Gaza have suffered a lot and we have made it possible for them to take a breath with this agreement,” Yildirim told a news conference in Ankara.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday the deal would improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, sources in Erdogan’s office said.
But for Gaza residents such as Omar Ghraieb, a blogger, lifting the siege on Gaza means freedom of movement, not more food or aid. “The siege on Gaza has crushed dreams, killed patients, separated families, destroyed businesses, defeated ambitions. It’s not just about aid [and] food,” he said, adding that having the siege lifted means self-efficiency and an air and sea port for Gaza. “Is this too ambitious?” He asked.
Following the announcement of the deal, a Hamas statement praised the Turkish president for “a long history of support and solidarity with Palestine”, and hoped for a “Turkish role that ends the siege on Gaza and stops Israeli incursions”.
Last week, Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal confirmed, during a press briefing in Doha, that “lifting” the siege on Gaza was still a Turkish condition for normalising relations with Israel, adding that Turkish officials have assured Hamas in this regard.
“Hamas builds its ties based on how much the other party embraces Palestinian rights,” explained Hazim Qassem, a Hamas activist. “Turkey is very supportive of Palestine and stood against Israel on several fronts, and as such Hamas regards its relationship with Turkey highly.”
Another Hamas official, and an adviser to the former prime minister in Gaza, Ahmed Yousef echoed Qassem’s sentiments.
“[Turkey] is a country that has stood with us, and we feel it protects our interests, including during the aggression [and wars] on Gaza. Its aid has never ceased,” Yousef told Al Jazeera. “But it was forced into this agreement, to ease the sanctions. This is the best it could get from Israel. They promised to continue their efforts to lift the sanctions.
“We, in the Hamas movement, do not welcome any normalisation with Israel from any country – especially Turkey, that is currently heading the Organisation of Islamic Conference. This puts it in an awkward position with regards to this normalisation. But it knows its interests better. We do not interfere in Turkish affairs, and we thank them for what they offer the Palestinians,” he added.
Other Palestinian factions have sat on the fence regarding the deal. While Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Aita refused to comment on the particulars of the deal, saying: “The deal is a Turkish affair. We do not intervene in Turkish matters,” the Islamic Jihad said in a statement that while they reject any Arab or Muslim move “to normalise relations with the Zionist enemy”, they welcome any effort to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people.
But for some Palestinians, Israel stands to gain more out of this deal and “comes out on top”. “Israel paid $20m [in compensation] in order to pass a deal that will earn it billions in trade.” said Izz El-deen Al-Akhras, a Palestinian activist.
The Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation IHH, which operated the flotilla of ships that Israel attacked in 2010, expressed fear that the agreement conditions will lead to international recognition rather than lifting of the blockade.
“An agreement foreseeing the using of Ashdod port would not weaken the blockade but rather it leads to official recognition of it,” IHH wrote on Twitter.
“Blockade is different from embargo. The agreement should be based on the conditions of abolishing the blockade, not the embargo,” IHH continued, stressing that the fundamental problem of Gaza is related to freedoms, not humanitarian relief.
Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, political analyst and manager of the Gaza-based Future Political Studies Institute, says that political obstacles and international pressures prevented Turkey from reaching a deal that could significantly lift the siege on Gaza.
“The Turks cannot confront Israel alone and, at the end of the day, they have to pursue their interests,” al-Madhoun told Aljazeera. An important outcome, he added, is that Turkey has elevated the issue of the Israel’s siege on Gaza to the forefront of world politics.
“Perhaps the most important outcome of the deal is that it will most likely defer a much-feared upcoming confrontation between Hamas and Israel for few years now.”