March 11, 2024 | Policy Brief

Why is Erdogan Meeting With Mahmoud Abbas?

March 11, 2024 | Policy Brief

Why is Erdogan Meeting With Mahmoud Abbas?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on March 4 in Ankara. Erdogan used the meeting to vilify Israel and position Turkey as a mediator to end the war on Hamas.

Abbas’s visit to Ankara was the first by a Palestinian leader since Hamas’s October 7, 2023, attacks sparked war with Israel. Abbas used the meeting to call for Palestinian unity as well as propose an international conference to draw a road map leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Erdogan had two motives for hosting Abbas. First, he seeks to reinforce his claim to be the Palestinians’ top advocate and Israel’s most outspoken critic, a role that bolsters his popularity among Islamists and rejectionists globally. Second, he must make amends with Abbas to augment Turkey’s diplomatic role. For Abbas and his supporters, Erdogan’s partiality toward Hamas, a group with whom Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party shares a common Muslim Brotherhood theological origin, creates suspicion and resentment, especially after Hamas turned its guns on rival Palestinians in 2007 to seize absolute control over the Gaza Strip.

Following the Erdogan-Abbas meeting, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey seeks to create a Palestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. He used a joint press conference to disparage Israel. “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his murder partners will surely pay for every drop of blood they shed before the law and the public conscience,” he declared.Days later, Erdogan unequivocally remarked, “Turkey is a country that stands firmly behind Hamas.”

Such polemics might win Erdogan plaudits at home and in Gaza, but they hamper Turkey’s broader diplomatic ambition. Ankara has played only a marginal role in negotiations to resolve the Israel-Hamas war, well behind Egypt and Qatar, both of which are involved in negotiations to win the release of Israeli hostages. Jerusalem does not trust Ankara due to Erdogan’s support for Hamas. Nor is the problem only his rhetoric. Erdogan fetes Hamas leaders, and his allies stage pro-Hamas rallies that both glorify Hamas terrorism and condemn Israel as a “terrorist” state. Since 2011, Erdogan has provided the group with safe haven in Turkey, allowing Hamas to both recruit from Turkey and use Turkey as a base to fundraise for terrorist operations.

Such partiality continued when, at a March 7, 2024, State Department meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to address the “urgent need for a ceasefire in Gaza and the necessity of bolstering humanitarian aid to the region.”

Rather than accept such Turkish statements with grace and diplomatic politeness, Biden administration officials might advance diplomacy if they told Turkish counterparts that Washington will take Ankara’s desire for a ceasefire seriously only if Turkey stops championing and providing material support for terrorists. On December 21, 2023, for example, Israeli customs authorities intercepted a Turkish shipment of dual-use goods that Hamas could use to build rockets.

Turkey may want a seat at the table when Israel, Palestinian representatives, regional states, and other members of the international community discuss governance in Gaza, but Washington must not treat “being in the room where it happens” as an entitlement. Absent a fundamental change in Turkey’s posture, its inclusion would be akin to inviting an arsonist into the firehouse.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s 
Turkey Program and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Sinan, the Turkey Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Sinan on X @SinanCiddi. Follow FDD on X @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Israel Palestinian Politics Turkey