Hamas in Ankara?

Monjed Jadou, Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

Speculation has been growing surrounding a possible move of the Hamas political leadership from Qatar to Turkey, writes Monjed Jadou in Ramallah

Hamas in Ankara

 

Amid denials and a tight-lipped silence from the Palestinian group Hamas regarding the possibility of relocating the headquarters of its political wing from the Qatari capital Doha to the Turkish capital Ankara and the potential for Turkey to become a key mediator in ceasefire efforts, Palestinian and non-Palestinian reports suggest the likelihood of this move in the coming days and weeks.

Some analysts and observers of the Palestinian scene wonder why the decision is being made. The answer seems to come from the US, with some members of the US Congress demanding a review of the country’s relationship with Qatar due to the latter’s hosting of Hamas and its support for a movement that is classified as a terrorist organisation by the US.

Qatar says it is a neutral mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not a patron of Hamas, explaining that it does not control Hamas but acts as a fair mediator in negotiations between the two sides. It has also warned some politicians in certain countries, referring to members of the US Congress, against playing on sensitive issues to benefit their own election campaigns.

Despite Qatar’s criticism of attempts to exploit its humanitarian interventions in the Gaza war, it has hinted at the possibility of relinquishing its mediation efforts, especially since it has so far failed to make a breakthrough in talking to Hamas about its positions towards reaching a ceasefire. Qatar’s Prime Minister has also announced a comprehensive reassessment of this role.

Palestinian political and media sources have indicated that the likelihood of the Hamas leadership leaving the Qatari capital Doha has increased significantly, especially after a delegation from the movement arrived in Ankara led by Hamas Political Bureau Chief Ismail Haniyyeh and former Political Bureau chief Khaled Meshaal, along with several other Hamas leaders.

There have been discussions about where the movement’s leadership could go as a result of the US and Israeli pressure on Qatar. Could it go to Turkey, Iran, or a country under Iranian influence like Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or Oman, some have asked.

It might be difficult for the Hamas leadership to head to Syria due to its stance on the Syrian conflict in the past and the expulsion of the movement’s leadership by the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as a result of Hamas’ support for the Syrian Revolution. Heading to Lebanon could also be challenging, especially after the assassination of Hamas Political Bureau member Saleh Al-Arouri in the southern suburbs of Beirut by Israel in January.

Hamas has denied all rumours of the possibility of its political leadership or some of its members leaving Qatar for another destination. Mohamed Al-Nazal, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau based in Qatar, said that such issues were not being discussed. Qatar has not requested Hamas or any of its leadership to leave Doha, nor have any Qatari officials hinted at this, he said.

The Hamas delegation in Turkey did not discuss the matter during the meeting of the movement’s leadership with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he said, adding that the purpose of the rumours was to pressure Hamas and Qatar to accept unacceptable positions in the negotiations for a ceasefire.

Despite the denials by Hamas and its leadership, Palestinian and Arab media and analysts saw in an announcement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu an indication that the Western countries are interested in reviving the two-state solution. He also addressed these countries’ fear of Hamas, suggesting they would accept it as an unarmed political party.

Çavuşoğlu referred to Hamas accepting this option, suggesting that Ankara would facilitate the transition after a Hamas delegation handed a written message to Turkish officials stating that it agreed to establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital within the 1967 borders.

He said that this position would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state and would mean that there would be no need for an armed wing of the movement, considered as a sign of the possibility of Turkey entering the negotiations.

However, two Hamas officials then said on Saturday that reports suggesting that the Hamas leadership is considering leaving Qatar for another host country or even opening negotiations through Turkey are false. They said that the reason for the visit to Turkey was that the movement wants to strengthen its relations with Turkey, including by receiving aid from it.

Political analyst Iyad Hamad believes that all the indications suggest that Hamas is looking for a new refuge, explaining that the most prominent include the departure of Hamas’ political leadership from the Qatari capital, especially after Israel threatened to eliminate them even in Qatar, and efforts by the movement’s leadership to find a new and stable location.

Some Israeli media outlets have accused Qatar of being a “haven” for Hamas or even a partner with it as one of the largest supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood group. The accusations have led to US criticism and have caused Qatar to indicate the gap between it and Hamas, especially as the Hamas political leadership in Doha has failed to make a decision to reach an agreement.

Hamad said that the Qataris see the Hamas decision as coming not from the political leadership that it hosts but the military leadership affiliated with Iran. Qatar’s announcement that it is reassuming its role in mediating a ceasefire is one way of pressuring the Hamas political leadership in Qatar to put pressure on the Hamas military leadership to accept the currently proposed initiatives.

However, Qatar’s role depends on two factors, he said, being its relationship with Hamas and its financial support for the movement and its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a part.

Hamad said that Qatar does not want Hamas to leave its embrace, and this was confirmed by the first destination for the Hamas leadership outside Qatar being Turkey, which is not far from Qatar’s position in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.

Turkey and Qatar are allies seeking to play a role in the Middle East, and the Palestinian issue is one of the most important tools by which they can do so, he said. However, should Turkey host the Hamas political leadership it will do so with clear conditions, as mentioned by the Turkish foreign minister, especially regarding Hamas’ abandoning its military wing in exchange for the Palestinians achieving an independent state.

The political leadership’s first move was to go to Turkey and not Iran, as the movement’s political wing does not want to continue the war in Gaza, whereas Iran’s interests lie in continuing it. Qatar does not want to embarrass Hamas, and its departure to Turkey would mean maintaining Doha’s reputation and overcoming the US-Israeli pressure.

Hamas itself may not want Iranian hospitality, he said, as this would mean paying the hefty political price of residing with a demanding host like Tehran’s leaders. Additionally, its own leaders would be easy targets for Israel’s assassination machine, as Israel has carried out assassinations of Iranian scientists and military leaders in Iran, something it cannot do in Turkey or Qatar due to their diplomatic relations with both parties.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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