On May 16, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to travel to Hamas-ruled Gaza in June. Standing next to U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, Erdogan expressed hope “that my visit can contribute to the [peace] process.”
Elaborating, Erdogan declared that “a negotiating table where Hamas … is not represented cannot produce peace. … For us, Hamas is what Fatah is.” The following day, he reaffirmed that “unity between Fatah and Hamas … has to be achieved.”
It is difficult to fathom that Obama could not have persuaded Erdogan to forgo his trip. The administration, after all, had obliged various Turkish security requests over the implosion in Syria – such as by deploying Patriot missiles along Turkey’s border with Syria earlier this year – in exchange for promises from Erdogan. Obama also could have applied direct pressure on Erdogan, as when he recently strong-armed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into apologizing for the Mavi Marmara incident.
That Obama did not see fit to use similar tactics in this instance suggests he does not have serious reservations about the proposed visit.
While in Israel in March, Obama offered a window into his thinking. In his speech in Jerusalem, he drew a stark distinction between Hamas and Hezbollah.
Speaking of the Bulgarian tour bus bombing last July in which five Israelis were killed, Obama said they had been “blown up because of where they came from … robbed of the ability to live and love and raise families. … That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is – a terrorist organization. Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians.”
But his tone was markedly different in speaking about Hamas: “When I consider Israel’s security, I think about … Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot, children … who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live. … That’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
Far from defining Hamas as a terror organization that murders innocent Israelis, Obama outlined “expectations” for the legitimization of the intolerable.
Following Obama’s speech, Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, revealed that U.S. objections to Hamas-Fatah unification were weakening. Weeks later, the two rival Palestinian factions agreed on a timeline of three months to join forces.
While this may well fail, as have all previous reconciliation attempts, the key lesson must be that, amid an ongoing U.S. push for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it is unlikely that serious talk of such a rapprochement could proceed without tacit U.S. approval.
Reinforcing this perception is the peace summit convened in April by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Heading the Arab delegation was Qatar, one of Hamas’s strongest proponents, which has, over the last two years, spearheaded attempts to create a Palestinian unity government.