10 October 2011
In an interview granted to the Arabic service of the satellite TV channel 'Russia Today', PLO leader Mahmud Abbas sharpened some of the messages he delivered following his statehood-seeking address to the United Nations General Assembly. Abbas explained that the transfer of the Palestinian issue to the UN would take it away from the American sphere of influence, which is inexplicably biased in Israel’s favor. He elaborated further on calling Hamas to enter into "serious" negotiations to complete the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas.

Abbas clarified that at issue were the projected 2012 elections, in which Hamas is poised to take over the West Bank, as per Abbas’ promise not to run and to "delegate his popularity" to another Fatah candidate who would, as a result, be easily defeated by Hamas.

Abbas’ belief that he can reach an agreement with Hamas is bolstered by the recent efforts and backing of Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdoğan. Erdoğan has simultaneously promoted Abbas’ bid for statehood at the UN and offered protection to Hamas. It is in Turkey’s interest to foster the reconciliation diplomacy between Gaza and the West Bank in order to benefit from the two sides of the divided Palestinian Authority. In addition, Turkey’s region-wide support for the Muslim Brotherhood makes it an ideal partner and supporter of the eventual Hamas government in the West Bank.

In addition to political leverage and prestige, Erdoğan stands to gain economically from a united Palestine, which would dovetail with the PA’s recent demands to amend the Paris Protocols – the economic section of the Oslo accords. As part of its demand to amend the protocols, articulated by Abbas’ advisor Sabri Saida, the PA wishes to distance its markets from the state of Israel. Turkey would then line up to fill the vacuum.

It is no secret that one of Erdoğan's most effective tools in spreading Turkish influence across the Middle East is the strong Turkish economy. He had leveraged it before in Syria and Libya and has now offered it to Egypt. It is possible Erdoğan will see fit to use it vis à vis the Palestinians. Turkish insistence that Israel “end the siege” of Gaza may have been a cover up for its intention to build a Turkish harbor on its territory, thereby befriending Hamas. At the same time, and especially in view of the recent natural gas discoveries off Israel’s and Cyprus’ shores, Turkey may see Gaza as a gateway to its energy fields. Although the permit to exploit the fields is currently held by British Gas, it is highly likely that the matter of energy exploration was a topic of discussion in Erdoğan’s recent meetings with Mahmoud Abbas.

Turkey’s mediation efforts can be hindered by two factors. First, Ramallah is still reeling from the humiliation it suffered at the hands of Hamas and vividly remembers its cadres being thrown off rooftops in Gaza. Second, Turkey may run into Iran as the sitting patron of Hamas and be forced to retreat. Turkey's regional aspirations notwithstanding, the Palestinians are still far from real reconciliation, and Turkey itself may not be able to play to mediator role it craves.

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