| Has Turkey abandoned Gaza?
Ibrahim Hamami, a British Palestinian writer
This week, Israel and Turkey announced a deal to repair and normalise relations after a six-year rift in their diplomatic relationship following the deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara, which left 10 Turkish citizens dead.
Although the deal fulfilled almost all of Turkey’s conditions regarding the victims of the deadly attack, it fell short of lifting the siege on Gaza, as was promised several times. This has drawn much criticism from the Palestinian side.
One of Turkey’s original demands for a deal was that Israel end its blockade on Gaza. Israel did not initially want to discuss about the blockade, refusing concessions of any kind. The two extreme positions had to be negotiated in order to find a middle ground.
Ultimately, Turkey backed away from its original demand (as did Israel), but it still appears to have extracted good concessions from Israel over allowing access to Gaza.
Turkey is seemingly overwhelmed with a variety of predicaments, including border issues with Syria, the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, the fight against Turkish rebels, and Russian hostility in the Syrian conflict. Despite all of these concerns, Turkey kept Gaza on its negotiating agenda, refusing to drop it as a third condition to strike a deal.
Turkey had asked Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza, which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist organisation, Hamas, but a compromise was reached to allow Turkish aid to reach Gaza through the southern Israeli port of Ashdod.
Turkey will transfer materials to build residential buildings, as well as a 200-bed hospital, according to a senior Turkish official. Turkey has also said it will work to invest in Gaza’s energy and water sectors, which have collapsed after years of Israeli blockades and sporadic conflict.
Is it a bad deal for Gaza? Did Turkey abandon Gaza? I don’t think so.
What is Turkey’s motive, apart from being supportive of Palestinians in general, and Gaza in particular? Is there any obligation to do so, apart from a moral, principled position? Why should Turkey bother about Gaza when this is a bilateral deal?
Hence, one must ask why there is so much criticism of this deal. One Palestinian official dismissed it as “Muslim Brotherhood politics”, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trying to use the Palestinians as a shield to ward off criticism from his own Islamist supporters for making a deal with the Jewish state. Yet, many Palestinian officials are also cooperating with Israel.
We should also remember that when news reports spoke about a possible deal earlier this past February – a deal that would include a seaport connecting Gaza to Northern Cyprus – these same officials promised to thwart any attempt by Turkey to establish a lifeline to Gaza, as they were concerned about Cypriot sovereignty.
As a Palestinian, I want to see the end of the blockade and not just easing its conditions – but at the same time, I understand and appreciate Turkey’s difficulties and its position, being the only regional power that has tried for years to do something about the blockade while others simply stand by or actively take part.
I have no doubt in my mind that if Turkey had enough support from the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, it could have succeeded in lifting the blockade entirely, once and for all.
At the end of the day, any move to ease the unbearable situation in Gaza and improve the lives of nearly two million Palestinians in need of basic humanitarian aid is welcomed.
Looking at the deal from a different angle, one can see a lot of positive achievements that none of the regional governments managed to match. At the end of the day, any move to ease the unbearable situation in Gaza and improve the lives of nearly two million Palestinians in need of basic humanitarian aid is welcomed.
Turkey promised to keep Gaza on the agenda, and it kept that promise. As Adam Michnik put it: “Politics is the art of achieving political goals – of achieving what is possible in a given situation – that is, in a situation that has its conditions and its limits.
Turkey has delivered.
Ibrahim Hamami is a British Palestinian, one of six million Palestinians in the diaspora. He’s a family physician in the UK.
| Thanks, Turkey – but it’s freedom, not charity, that Gaza seeks
Ramzy Baroud, author and founder of PalestineChronicle.com
When Israeli commandos violently raided the Freedom Flotilla in May 2010, something extraordinary happened in Gaza: a deep sense of loss, but also pride. It was the first time that this generation experienced real solidarity emanating from a Muslim country, exhibited with such resolution and willingness to sacrifice.
Many Palestinians had finally renewed their faith, not just in humanity, but also in their ummah, their larger Muslim nation. True, the siege that has suffocated Gaza all of these years was not broken; but what broke, and immediately so, was the sense of isolation that Palestinians have felt for too many years.
Gaza has been under a perpetual siege since 1967. Over the last nine years, the siege worsened. It morphed into a blockade when Israel decided to treat Gaza as a “hostile territory”, as if the impoverished and completely sealed tiny coastal strip was a sovereign nation. And for all of those years, Gaza became a ground for massive, extremely violent experimentations: successive, deadly wars operated with the latest weapons technology, along with a carefully counted calorie intake to merely keep the population alive, yet continually malnourished.
Whenever Gaza purportedly weakened, Israel carried out another war, hoping that more firepower would break the spirit of the tenacious territory. Major wars in 2008-09, 2012 and 2014 killed thousands of people.
When Israel attacked the Freedom Flotilla in international waters, Palestinians in Gaza marched in large numbers, raised posters adorned by the faces of their Turkish “martyrs”, and hailed Erdogan as the hero they desperately needed, since their own leadership often betrayed them.
Curiously, Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise Israel in 1949, when more than a million Palestinian refugees lived in squalid refugee camps, while Israel was erecting a brand new country upon the ruins of the refugees’ homes.
Since then, Turkey has played quite a duplicitous role. While gradually normalising relations with Israel, it occasionally protested one Israeli policy or another. Yet peculiarly, every time, the relationship between Israel and Turkey would resume without ever addressing Turkey’s grievances, and the re-normalisation fanfare would take place along with massive investments and military contracts. That same scenario was repeated after the Nakba, the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, the 1967 war and the occupation of what remained of historic Palestine, and Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem (al-Quds) as its “eternal capital” in 1980.
The Turkish-Israeli deal was a blow to Palestinian hopes that their siege was about to end, that they were no longer alone facing Israel's military machine and its powerful western benefactors.
Even when NATO powers, led by the United States, worked diligently to mend the rift resulting from the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, trade between both countries never ceased.
“Though political relations had hit rock bottom, both Turkey and Israel knew business must go on,” Turkey’s TRT World reported. “Business and politics were separated by a Chinese-wall like efficiency. Trade not only continued but expanded by 26 percent compared to 2010.”
2013 and 2014 were among the busiest years for Turkish Airlines carrying passengers between Turkey and Israel, and in 2015, trade between both countries had risen to $5.6bn, according to the Turkish Statistics Institute, cited in TRT.
Diplomatic re-normalisation between Istanbul and Tel Aviv has been afoot for years, although Palestinians were promised that no such rapprochement was possible without lifting the siege on Gaza – one of Turkey’s three oft-repeated conditions. The others were an Israeli apology for killing the Turkish nationals and a financial compensation package for their families.
But a whole different story emerged on June 27, when a normalisation deal was signed – one that is not inspired by ending the siege on Gaza, but rather “spurred by energy prospects”. There was no lifting of the siege, but rather lifting of restrictions that would allow Israel to ship natural gas via Turkey to the rest of Europe, generating billions of dollars in the process.
The Israeli Security Cabinet hurriedly approved the reconciliation agreement on June 29, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated what he called an agreement with “immense implications for the Israeli economy”.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said “the Israeli embargo on Gaza has been ‘largely lifted'” as reported by Al Jazeera.
It hasn’t. Moreover, embargoes are concerned with food and fuel. It is freedom from a suffocating blockade that Palestinians sought, not Turkish handouts to be delivered via an Israeli seaport.
The Turkish-Israeli deal was a blow to Palestinian hopes that their siege was about to end, that they were no longer alone facing Israel’s military machine and its powerful Western benefactors.
Perhaps the deal is also a wake-up call – that Palestinians must count on themselves first and foremost, achieve their elusive unity and seek solidarity the world over, not just with Ankara.
Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, media consultant, author of several books and founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.