Khaled Meshaal is in Turkey today for meetings with Prime Minister Erdoğan in what is no doubt the latest effort on Turkey’s part to broker a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Last month Mahmoud Abbas was in Ankara for talks with Erdoğan, Davutoğlu, and Gül, and Turkey has for years now tried to be the middleman in getting the two sides to make up. It is not a role that it wishes to cede to Egypt, and with Cairo in the news for brokering a ceasefire between Israel and various Palestinian factions following the fighting in Gaza earlier this week, Erdoğan would love to make some news of his own on the Palestinian front.
There was speculation about where the Hamas leadership was going to go once it decamped from Damascus with Istanbul seen as a leading contender, but so far some Hamas officials have gone to Cairo and others – including Meshaal – have gone to Doha. I wonder if Erdoğan is going to make an increased push with Meshaal today to host them in Turkey. The Turks have taken up the Palestinian cause with gusto in an effort to increase their popularity and expand their soft power in the Arab world, and that is likely to figure into their strategy even more now that they have given up on Assad and are still feuding with the Israelis. Hosting the Hamas leadership gives Turkey a lot of street cred, and has the added benefit of demonstrating Turkey’s distance from the Assad regime by accepting a group that has publicly turned on its former Syrian patron. The risks of course are that too much cozying up to Hamas upsets the U.S. and the E.U., but Erdoğan and Davutoğlu generally tend to side with risking some unpleasantness in Washington and European capitals if they stand to benefit elsewhere.
The other benefit to hosting Meshaal right now is that Erdoğan gets to stick it to Israel a few days after the Israelis issued a travel warning for its citizens in Turkey. Lots of public displays of friendship between Erdoğan and Davutoğlu and Meshaal will rile the Israelis up as it always does, and any talk of improved ties and resumed military coordination will again end with no tangible gains.