President of the State of Palestine and the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul earlier this month. Following criticism for postponing elections, the head of the Palestinian Authority is seeking foreign political support. For its part, Turkey took advantage of Abbas’ trip to strengthen ties with Palestine.
After asserting his interest in Afghanistan when the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the country, and also making attempts to reach a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Erdoğan has now backed the Palestinian Authority at a time when it is more isolated than ever. Abbas visited Istanbul on July 9, 10 and 11 at the invitation of Erdoğan. During their meeting, they reviewed bilateral relations, humanitarian issues, national reconciliation and future elections.
According to the Palestinian Wafa news agency, Abbas stressed “the importance of achieving a global appeasement, of putting an end to the Israeli attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, to stop settlements, house demolitions and other criminal occupation practices against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”
But the head of the Palestinian Authority is at the heart of criticism because last April he postponed elections, the first scheduled election since he took office in 2005. Accusing the Israeli government, he attempted to justify himself by saying: “We have decided to postpone the date of the elections until […] our people can exercise their democratic rights in Jerusalem.”
Protests ensued in several Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus. The leader of the Palestinian Authority has also been criticized for his inaction and silence during the conflict that raged between Israel and Gaza between May 10 and May 21. Abbas’ loss of legitimacy in the eyes of many Palestinians go back to the Oslo Accords. He did not want to admit his failure but demonstrated that he is a supporter of the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Under this constant domestic pressure, Abbas seeks to establish his legitimacy by deriving maximum benefit from his trip to Turkey, especially given Erdoğan’s strong rhetorical support for Palestine to boost his electoral popularity. During the May conflict, the Turkish President made belligerent remarks against the Jewish State, but as per usual did not do anything concrete to upset the multibillion-dollar trade that Turkey enjoys with Israel. In an official statement dated May 10, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry described Israeli actions as “terror” and strongly condemned Tel Aviv. In fact, the communication director of the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, openly called for an attack against Israel: “We appeal to the Muslim world. It is time to say stop to cowardly attacks and tyrannical Israel. […] Let hell burn the tyrants.”
Despite the strong words, Turkey did next to nothing to support Palestine during the conflict, a far cry from its military interventions in Libya, Syria, Iraq and the Caucasus. With regard to Palestine, Erdoğan has always been close to the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Hamas terrorist organization and does not hesitate to provide financial support to the group.
Abbas’ visit to Turkey is mostly symbolic, especially since Turkish influence over the Palestinian Authority remains limited. But today, if Abbas maintains his position, even at 85-years-old, it is because his policy of repression is also in the interest of Israel. The international community will also remain silent as the majority of countries have no real interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue and are satisfied with the status quo remaining in place.
With Turkey in a deep economic crisis, even if it unofficial due to statistics being manipulated by the government, Erdoğan’s declining popularity sees him more desperate to break the isolation he has put his country in. This has found very little success, with his closest foreign allies remaining Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization. Abbas also finds himself in a similar position, mostly abandoned and isolated from the Arab World and the international community.
In this way, the two leaders are hoping that collective efforts can restore their legitimacy based around the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The challenge Turkey has is being able to utilise the global Islamic community to rally around Palestine whilst balancing its close and highly profitable economic relations with Israel.
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