The Middle East has been plagued for centuries by conflicts among the peoples of the region, global geopolitical power struggles and interventions by extra-regional actors.

The Palestinian issue, which has constituted the main issue in the region since the establishment of Israel in 1948, had fallen into the background for a while with the “Arab Spring” that started in Tunisia at the end of 2010 and spread, and the developments that followed.

With the October 7 attack by Hamas and the events that followed, it again became the focal point of the region and the world.

As a result of the military operation launched by Israel in response, more than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have lost their lives in Gaza, where 2.3 million people live, and international law and humanitarian law have been trampled on.

This human tragedy, which has been going on for seven months, has provoked reactions even in countries that support Israel, and genocide cases have been filed against Israel in international courts.

Most recently, an arrest warrant has been issued for Prime Minister Netanyahu and several other senior Israeli officials to be taken to the International Criminal Court.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of the coalition government representing the extreme right and ultra-orthodox sectors in Israel, has declared that the operation will continue until Hamas is destroyed, but despite its technological superiority and high firepower, Israel is unlikely to achieve this maximalist goal.

The war in Gaza has not been confined to Gaza, but has spilled over into the region and beyond.

In response to Hezbollah’s and Iran’s harassment and activities, Israel is striking targets in Lebanon and Syria.

In Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthis, one of the parties to Yemen’s long-running civil war, have been targeting ships around Bab al-Mandab, the gateway to the shortest and most economical sea route linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, causing disruptions in the global supply chain.

In response to the attack on the annex of the Iranian embassy in Damascus on April 13, more than 300 drones and missiles were fired at Israel from Iran, as well as from various locations in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, and Israel responded by attacking targets in Isfahan.

Since Iran had announced in advance that it was going to attack, 99 percent of the attack vehicles were destroyed outside Israeli territory by the air defense systems of Israel, the United States and some other countries, and only a few fell into Israel, but the significance of this crisis was that it was the first time that the two sides had targeted each other openly and directly with such intensity. In this way, the rules of engagement changed.

In a similar crisis in the future, the possibility that the means of attack could be equipped with weapons of mass destruction is a nightmare scenario.

The protests by students at US universities demanding a halt to Israel’s Gaza offensive have also made waves around the world.

The United States remains a key country, with its influence over Israel and its deterrent and destructive military power against Israel’s enemies.

Faced with these crises shortly before the crucial presidential elections in November, US President Joe Biden is caught between a rock and a hard place.

The United States has expressed its displeasure with Israel’s conduct of the Gaza offensive in various ways, including abstaining from voting in the United Nations Security Council and sanctioning Jewish settlers who attack Palestinians.

Nevertheless, it continues its traditional policy of strongly siding with Israel. Most recently, Congress approved a $26 billion military aid package to Israel.

The other key players in the Gaza crisis, the Arab countries, have reacted to the devastation caused by Israel’s offensive, but have not confronted Israel as a bloc with political, economic or military measures.

The Arab Peace Plan, unanimously adopted by leaders at the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, envisaged normalization with Israel in return for the restoration of Palestinian rights and withdrawal from the occupied territories.

However, without waiting for these conditions to be met, the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 ushered in a new phase between Israel and the Arab world, with some progress even between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Although the Gaza operation affected this positive atmosphere, none of the Arab countries that signed peace agreements and established diplomatic relations with Israel (Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Morocco and Sudan) severed relations with Israel.

There are several factors that have contributed to this attitude of Arab countries.

Instead of the old approach based on the elimination of Israel, Arab countries, especially the Gulf states, are now focusing on creating an environment in which they can realize their vision of transforming their countries economically, socially and politically, and their multi-billion dollar projects for this purpose, in which there is room for Israel and Palestine.

Egypt, one of the heavyweights of the Arab world, is struggling to get its economy back on track. Concerned about the repercussions of the war in Gaza and a possible influx of Palestinian refugees into Sinai, Egypt is working to end the crisis as soon as possible.

So is Jordan, a fragile state that has always been directly affected by Palestinian events.

An important factor driving the Arab countries is the conflict between the political Islamists and the Arab monarchies, as well as between the Arab monarchies and the secular, so-called liberal elements, which also played an important role in determining the fate of the “Arab Spring”.

Most Arab countries do not sympathize with Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which also has close ties with Iran, and refrain from supporting the organization, even in the name of the Palestinian cause.

The Arab countries see Iran as a risk factor that complicates the region and interferes in the internal affairs of the Arabs, and their concerns have an impact on their orientation in international relations, including the level of their relations with Israel and the United States.

Recent developments between Iran and various Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, have given the impression that relations are normalizing, but the centuries-old animosity, rooted in sectarian conflict, is not easy to end.

Political polarization among Palestinians and Israelis is also an obstacle to ending the crisis and finding a lasting solution to the Palestinian issue.

The rift between Fatah and Hamas, headed by Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is as sharp as the rift between Palestinians and Israelis.

As the Gaza war rages on, Fatah and Hamas representatives have been meeting in search of inter-Palestinian reconciliation. The last time they met in Beijing, no positive outcome was announced. They also met in Moscow in February.

In Israel, too, there is a deep rift between the extreme right-wing and ultra-orthodox and the moderate, secular, liberal camp.

The protests of anti-Netanyahu Israelis, especially the relatives of the hostages in Gaza, are an indication of the divisions in Israeli society.

The strong Israeli economy, at least to date, has not been adversely affected by the crisis, but this could change if the crisis is prolonged and widespread.

While the focus of the crisis is on Gaza, the situation in the West Bank is also extremely tense. The provocative actions of Jewish settlers and their attacks on Palestinians could escalate the situation to a much more serious level.

There are around 750,000 Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are defined as occupied territories by the United Nations.

Another nightmare scenario for Israel is that Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli Arabs take to the streets and the crisis spreads throughout the country.

Two million of Israel’s 9.7 million inhabitants are Palestinians, known as Israeli Arabs. The Palestinian population in the West Bank is around 3 million.

The international community is currently focused on ceasefire efforts and a possible Israeli military operation in Rafah.

The United States, Egypt and Qatar have been at the forefront of efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza.

US Secretary of State Blinken, who once again visited the region, said that “Israel has offered a very generous ceasefire” and that he hoped Hamas would accept it.

After intense diplomacy and persuasion, on the evening of May 6, Hamas announced that it had accepted the ceasefire agreement proposed by Qatar and Egypt.

Israel, on the other hand, announced that the text Hamas had accepted was watered down and that the Israeli army would not end the operation until Rafah was cleared of Hamas.

There seems to be confusion about the elements of the ceasefire agreement.

It is not unusual in Middle East diplomacy for the supposedly agreed text to be different for each party, or for different promises to be made to each party to create the impression that an agreement has been reached.

Netanyahu’s coalition partners, the far right and the ultra-orthodox, have threatened to leave the coalition if a ceasefire agreement is reached, so Netanyahu must make moves that satisfy his partners and his support base.

According to Hamas officials, the ceasefire agreement consists of three phases, each lasting 42 days, including a cessation of operations, a hostage/prisoner exchange, the authorization of humanitarian access and the withdrawal of military forces.

What matters more than the agreement itself is whether the parties have the will to implement it.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Turkey has endeavored to pursue an active policy and, like the majority of the international community, is of the view that the operation in Gaza must stop immediately and that lasting peace is only possible through a two-state solution.

What differentiates Turkey from other countries is not its support for the Palestinian cause, but its position on Hamas.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defines Hamas as a resistance organization fighting for liberation, not a terrorist organization.

Erdoğan welcomed Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh and his delegation to Turkey recently and sent a message to the world and Turkish public opinion.

In a statement he made just before this visit, he equated Hamas with the Kuvayi Milliye.

The government sees Hamas from what it considers the glass half full, but Israel and many other countries, including the US and the Arabs, see Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Turkey appears to be on a mission to convince the world that Hamas should be addressed.

Turkish officials emphasize the political aspect of Hamas, which also participated in and won the 2006 Palestinian legislative council elections, rather than the armed aspect of Hamas, which operates under the name Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan has stated that once a Palestinian state is established within the 1967 borders, Hamas’ military wing will no longer be needed and will continue to exist as a political movement.

Hamas’ 1988 founding charter was based on the destruction of Israel, which it defined as an illegal Zionist entity.

In the 2017 revised Charter, a more moderate approach was taken.

Those who look at the glass half full interpret Article 20 of the revised Charter, which states that “the establishment of an all-sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, constitutes the national consensus among Palestinians”, as Hamas tacitly accepts the two-state solution and, indirectly, the existence of the state of Israel.

Israel and like-minded countries, on the other hand, are of the view that Hamas is a terrorist organization, that it has not given up on the idea of destroying Israel and terrorism, that it is pretending, but that it has shown its true face with the October 7 attack.

Turkey, like many other countries, wants to gain international prestige by contributing to ending the war and humanitarian tragedy in Gaza and to guarantee its place at the peace table where influential actors of the international community will come together.

However, Turkey’s stance on Hamas, in particular, could have a negative impact on its relations with Israel, as well as with the United States and most Arab countries, and may not allow it to take its desired place in peace efforts.

In the last few days, Turkey has adopted a proactive policy, announcing that it will intervene in South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice and that it has decided to completely halt its trade with Israel.

It can be said that Turkey decided to take these steps in order to set an example for other countries by taking concrete steps beyond words and to eliminate the criticism of “all talk and no action” from various circles in the domestic public opinion.

It seems that there will be no end to the violence in Gaza and that there will be no progress in resolving the Palestinian issue, but in the past, when it was thought that there would be no end to the violence, platforms where Israel and Arab countries came together were established, work was carried out and progress was made.

There was the Madrid Conference in 1991, the Oslo agreement in 1993 and other agreements after that.

Now, despite all the loss of life and destruction, it is very difficult, but not impossible, to establish a sustainable ceasefire and then to start a peace process on the basis of a two-state solution.

This can be achieved by;

-Take the initiative away from extremists,

-proving that the road to a Palestinian state would be paved,

-Regional countries to engage constructively in the process,

It is important that extra-regional actors, particularly the United States, who may have an impact on the process with their various attributes, should put forward a balanced and encouraging approach between the parties.

Even if a negotiation table can be set up to resolve the Palestinian issue, it will undoubtedly be a very difficult process due to highly sensitive issues such as the determination of borders, the status of Jerusalem, the return of refugees and Jewish settlements.

If Turkey pursues a rational, non-ideological policy, it has the potential to be one of the countries that can contribute positively to the resolution of the Palestinian issue and the establishment of peace and stability in the Middle East.

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