First Hamas leader visit in Februrary 2006 to Ankara caused great contreversy in Turkey. When Hamas leader Khaled Mashal came to Turkey, it was fourth year of AK Party rule, and there was stil questions about the “real intentions” of the government in the minds of Turkey’s secular establishment.
Following the March 1 Decree crisis with the United States, when Turkey refused to allow American forces to invade Iraq from the South of Turkey, while Turkish government was heavily criticising US and Israel due to Fallujah attack in Iraq and Sharon’s assassinations of Hamas leaders previous years, the visit of Khaled Mashal also triggered controversy in international circles.
This time the visit of Ismail Haniyeh to Turkey when compared with Mashal visit was rather quiet. The Palestinian leader who lives at Israeli rifle barrel in Gaza, met Prime Minister Erdogan, political party leaders and with the members of human rights organizations. He made speeches, and paid the most sentimental and symbolic visit to Mavi Marmara ferry. He visited Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque, led a prayer there and shook hands with Turks who support Palestinian cause maybe more then any other nation fort he last couple of years.
Haniyeh, in front of the Mavi Marmara said “Mavi Marmara broke the siege around Gaza” and thanked to activists, listening to him. But this statement is doubtful. Mavi Marmara at most only shook the siege but could not hit it to the ground.
After the Mavi Marmara incident in 31 May, 2010 while Turkish and Israeli relations sunk bottom level, the siege around Gaza did not move an inch. Israel only allowed little aid inside Gaza for a while.
What really changed the situation in the Middle East concerning the siege was the strategic change in leadership in Arab countries, mainly Egypt. With the impact of street revolt in neighbouring Egypt, and Muslim Brotherhood’s increasing influence in national politics, embargo on Gaza was eased.
Ismail Haniyeh is able to pay visits to certain regional capitals because of the Arab revolt. Same current in politics is now forcing Palestinian groups to sit together and find a middleway to unite powers against Israel.
From the Turkish point of view, this visit also related to the so called Arab Spring. Turkey’s desire to involve in Middle East politics as regional “order-maker” country as Foreign Minister Davutoglu conceptualize it, Turkey need to continue having good relations with Hamas and support the Palestinian cause. Turkey’s defence for Palestinians is welcome in the Arab street, because for many years they are fed up with the silence of their own governments against Israel’s atrocities. And this good impression is opening way for Turkey who would like to have a say in the restructring of the region.