Leading Palestinian political organization Hamas, led by Khaled Mashal, won 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Parliament in 2006, earning the mandate to form a government. As it is their habit, soon after they realized the election results were not to their liking, the U.S., Israel and Europe announced that they would not be acknowledging the outcome if Hamas did not disarm and recognize Israel.
Mashal, as he was trying to handle the natural upheaval caused after Hamas was denied its democratic due, visited Ankara, the first post-election visit to a non-Arab country, and met with senior members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). While the West criticized its actions, Turkey counseled restraint and called for the recognition of Hamas as a legitimate representative of Palestinians to win over the group while encouraging democratic progress.
Turkey's ties with Israel shattered after Israel's attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip. It took years of negotiations before Israel signed a deal that allowed the two sides to resume relations. During and after the conclusion of the negotiations Turkey never retreated from its belief that permanent peace necessitated the recognition of Hamas. Ankara always made it clear that its ties with Israel could not progress to the cost of its relations with Hamas. Israel itself has also acknowledged the fact that without Hamas, there can be no permanent peace.
The policy document Hamas released this week, while not recognizing Israel, reverses its long-held objective of destroying Israel's existence. It no longer makes overt references to its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and restructures its ties with Al-Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Such drastic reforms, which were long discussed between Turkish and Hamas officials and within the group's leadership itself, is the first time Hamas has altered its founding document since its formation in 1988 and should be viewed as the group's first tentative steps toward acknowledging Israel's right to exist within the 1967 borders.
While the West carelessly criticized Turkey's ties with Hamas, rejecting the positive and rational influence it has on the group, the announcement this week clearly demonstrates Turkey's power of persuasion. It should be admitted that principles put forward by Hamas is an encouraging sign for peace in the region.
It should also be acknowledged that leaders unrecognized and unrepresentative of their public can no longer legitimately contribute to peace in the region. The region's people have long suffered from the agonies caused by rulers who have lost touch with the public. Countries in the region do not have the luxury to remain stranded by the status quo while Hamas is undergoing a dramatic transformation.
What we have here is a tremendous opportunity to pick up the peace negotiations from where it was left off in 2009.
The timing of the Hamas announcement, only days before the Palestinian Administration President Mahmoud Abbas is to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, is important in itself. Now is the time for all sides to loudly voice their support for a two-state solution that ends violence in the region, rather than surrender to populist policies with short term agendas. We should not forget that we, Turkey, the U.S. Israel and Palestine, may be faced with a historic opportunity that Trump may just succeed in turning into a success. He may be on the cusp of becoming the leader who finally cut through the Gordian knot of perpetual violence in the region.
It is also crucial for Israel to rise to the occasion and disregard its obstinate refusal to extend its hand. The U.S. and Israel, both, need to show they are ready for peace.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is lucky to have found the chance for peace, which had evaded many of his predecessors. The only thing he needs to do is to grasp it with both hands. If Trump and Netanyahu can show they are truly the statesmen they profess to be, they'll welcome the Palestinians' evident desire for peace and do their utmost to end violence. They can be sure that Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, will be supporting them every step of the way.