The visit to Gaza of the Emir of Qatar, the first visit of a head of state to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, has great significance politically and diplomatically — even beyond the mere economic aspect — for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The involvement of the Emirate of Qatar in the region — among other things, its mediation of the internal conflict in the Palestinian arena between Fatah and Hamas — is nothing new. In fact, Qatar has been playing a major role in the efforts for reconciliation between the two organizations along with Egypt, which is currently preoccupied with its own domestic problems.
It was in Qatar that the framework agreement between the two organizations reached in February 2012 was signed. However, following the Qatari state visit to the Gaza Strip, Qatar will find it difficult to maintain its position as fair mediator. Evidently, the stance adopted by the Qatari Emirate will not be conducive to attempts to heal the inter-Palestinian rift. The visit actually grants Hamas the legitimacy it has been seeking and may well ease its economic plight.
In Ramallah, the visit is seen as undermining the standing of the Palestinian Authority, which is grappling at present with a most serious budgetary crisis and can hardly pay the salaries of its employees. Palestinian sources associated with Fatah have criticized the Qatari ruler, who, they claim, is looking for influence at the expense of the Palestinians. They described the visit as “a sad moment in the history of the Palestinian people” and as weakening its national unity.
The Qatari Emirate is currently the world's major exporter of liquefied natural gas and ranks third globally, after Russia and Iran, in natural-gas reserves. This resource, which is greatly in demand, has earned the citizens of Qatar (250,000 Qatari citizens out of some million inhabitants) the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita worldwide. The immense economic might of Qatar and its willingness to use it for political purposes, combined with the weakness of some of the traditional centers of power in the Arab world following recent upheavals, position Qatar as an emerging and increasingly influential force in the region and highlight the unique foreign policy it has adopted, which includes involvement — and active engagement — in most of the areas of conflict and agitation in the region, from Libya to Syria.
Qatar has initiated a large-scale rehabilitation project for Gaza, in the framework of which construction materials are to be transferred through the Rafah land border crossing. The Qatari Emir has announced that he intends to invest nearly half a billion dollars in the rehabilitation of Gaza — the most significant sum invested in four years in the Gaza Strip, since the Cast Lead operation.
Against the backdrop of the crisis in Syria, Hamas has drawn away from Iran and Syria — which used to play host to the organization on their territory and to provide it with vast financial support and advanced weaponry — and has come closer to Qatar, where the organization's senior members have moved their headquarters. It has been reported that in recent months that the Qatari Emirate has been supplying Hamas with the fuel to operate the single power plant in the Gaza Strip.
All in all, the visit is seen as a reward to Hamas for cutting its ties with Iran and Syria, and the organization is taking advantage of the visit to score a propaganda point vis-à-vis Israel, flaunting it as “breaking the Israeli blockade on Gaza.”
The activity by Qatar with respect to the Palestinian issue is causing much damage to Israel. It may be assumed that Israel is far from pleased with the visit or the achievement it represents for Hamas, even though the Hamas break from the radical “axis of evil” is in itself a positive and welcome move.