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Erdogan’s Golden Opportunity

Turkey’s President Erdogan could have emerged from the Israel-Hamas war as a peacemaker

By: EBR - Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2024

Erdogan had every opportunity to become a great leader of a great nation – but fell victim to his irrepressible need for self-aggrandizement, entirely tactical use of religious zeal and ever-growing lust for power.
Erdogan had every opportunity to become a great leader of a great nation – but fell victim to his irrepressible need for self-aggrandizement, entirely tactical use of religious zeal and ever-growing lust for power.

by Alon Ben-Meir*

Whenever I write about Turkey’s President Erdogan, I find it hard to articulate what kind of legacy this man wants to leave behind.

Erdogan had every opportunity to become a great leader of a great nation – but fell victim to his irrepressible need for self-aggrandizement, entirely tactical use of religious zeal and ever-growing lust for power.

History will judge

History will judge. But the odds are that these features prevented him from discerning what was best for his country.

And it kept him from becoming a constructive and truthful leader, admired and respected at home and abroad – which he so desperately desired all along.

No regional peacemaker

With regard to international politics, Erdogan missed one other significant opportunity that could have made him emerge as a regional peacemaker above all others.

Erdogan could have chosen to seize on the changing paradigm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting from Hamas’ horrific attack on Israeli communities – which led to the tragically unfolding Israel-Hamas war.

He could have opted to strive toward reconciliation between the two sides. Instead, he chose the opposite path – to foment greater hatred and resistance against Israel.

Not acting like a leader

He chose to fan the flames of the horrific war, further poisoning the atmosphere and intensifying the hostility and hatred between Israel and the Palestinians.

What was on display was – and is – an Erdogan who acted in a hypocritical fashion. Absorbed in fake piety and folly, he focused on exploiting the tragic Israel-Hamas war only for his own personal political gain.

Talking tough

Not once has he condemned Hamas’ butchering of 1,200 innocent Israelis. With his customary scorn for Israel, he unabashedly told members of his Justice and Development Party, “I say clearly that Israel is a terror state; we are faced with a genocide.”

At the same time, he stressed that “We will continue to see our Hamas brothers, who defend their homeland against occupiers, as the National Resistance of Palestine.”

Showboating on trade

Meanwhile, notwithstanding his withdrawal of Turkey’s ambassador from Israel, Erdogan initially continued to trade with Israel – first by banning the importation of 54 products.

Recently, Erdogan decided to ban all imports from Israel – which is still a symbolic move as the trade between Israel and Turkey fluctuates between 1-2%, which has little impact – if any – on Israel’s overall foreign trade.

Is that seriously meant as a big “sacrifice” coming from a self-proclaimed Islamist who presumably cares so much about “his Palestinian brothers”?

Turkey’s long relationship with Israel

Turkey recognized Israel in 1949 – only a year after the country’s establishment. It has maintained diplomatic relations, albeit with some ups and downs, ever since. Over the years, tourism and trade between the two countries skyrocketed.

Moreover, Israel helped upgrade much of Turkey’s air force – while providing it with advanced technology for both military and civilian use.

To be sure, regardless of Erdogan’s erratic behavior and his support of Hamas, Israel greatly valued its relations with Turkey because of the above – and due to Ankara’s geostrategic importance.

Erdogan and Hamas

Erdogan and Hamas leaders have also enjoyed good relations, going back to the time Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007. There was an instant affinity between them, as both saw themselves as devout Sunni Islamists sharing the same religious values.

Other than relying on Shiite Iran, Hamas needed the support of a significant Sunni Muslim state with strong Western ties. Hence the importance of Turkey.

At the same time, Erdogan sought to interject himself into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and portray himself as the protector of the Palestinian cause – from which he could drive prestige and exert significant influence.

To that end, he offered both financial support – as well as a refuge for Hamas leaders, enabling them to operate from his country without any impediment or fear of being targeted by Israel.

He further provided Turkish citizenship to senior Hamas leaders and wholeheartedly embraced them – even while Hamas was openly calling for Israel’s destruction.

Nevertheless, Erdogan was able to maintain good relations with both Israel and Hamas even though they viewed each other as an existential threat.

Erdogan, the realist

While Erdogan vehemently opposes the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade over Gaza, he also understands that Israel will not relinquish control over either territory as long as Hamas and other extremist Palestinians call for its destruction.

He could have made it clear to Hamas’ leaders that, even though successive Israeli leaders know that Hamas will never be in a position to destroy their country, they use Hamas’ narrative to justify the occupation and the blockade in the name of national security.

Israeli-Palestinian coexistence as the only option

Erdogan also knows that Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is not one of many options. It is the only option. Whether or not Hamas accepts this reality, there is nothing they can do about it.

No one has more credibility with Hamas than Erdogan. After all, he has earned their trust over the years for his unimpeachable backing and his defiance of the international community’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist group. He views them as a national liberation movement.

What now?

Israel may succeed in preventing Hamas from reconstituting itself as the governing authority in Gaza. But Hamas as a political movement will certainly persevere.

Now that it has become impossible to return to the status quo that existed before October 7, 2023, Turkey can – and should – play a pivotal role.

Turkey is the only country that recognizes and maintains diplomatic relations with Israel and, at the same time, enjoys warm relations with Hamas.

Erdogan can utilize his unique position to start a conversation with Hamas leaders – and awaken them to the reality of Israel from which they cannot escape.

A historic opportunity for a breakthrough

Israeli-Palestinian relations have indeed reached their nadir. They have not been as poisonous as they currently are since 1948. But then, when there is a breakdown in a relationship of such magnitude, it also offers a historic opportunity for a breakthrough.

Hamas, though in a horrific way, brought back the two-state solution to the table to which the Palestinians badly aspire, and in a bizarre way, Hamas has significantly advanced that prospect.

We do not know with certainty how and when the Gaza war will end. But we certainly know one thing: Both Hamas, in one form or another, and Israel will still be there at the end – and both must choose where they want to go from here.


Erdogan now has a golden opportunity. He can use his influence on Hamas to moderate its position toward Israel – and become a peacemaker instead of a warmonger

He could open the door , however slightly, to a process of reconciliation – which is a prerequisite to reaching a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

*a professor and Retired Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute
**first published in: Theglobalist.com


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