Qatar returns to Gaza scene

Despite the rocky relationship between Hamas and Qatar, Doha is trying to make a comeback on the Palestinian scene in the Gaza Strip as tensions with Egypt continue to grow.

al-monitor Palestinians take part in a rally in support of Qatar, inside Qatari-funded construction project Hamad City, in the southern Gaza Strip, June 9, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Dec 29, 2017

The head of Qatar’s National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza and the Qatari ambassador to the Palestinian territories, Mohammed al-Emadi, arrived in the Gaza Strip Dec. 18 along with his deputy Khaled al-Hardan and a delegation of Qatari doctors.

Abd al-Rahman al-Khalidi, the head of public relations for the reconstruction committee, said Dec. 18 that Emadi's visit aimed to follow up on Qatari projects in Gaza. During the visit, Emadi celebrated Qatar National Day, held meetings with officials and administered cochlear implants for 20 children.

While Emadi has been arranging regular visits by Qatar to Gaza since 2012, the latest visit is especially important as it follows the signing of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas in Egypt on Oct. 12, at a time when the relationship between Egypt and Qatar has been rocky. Doha has always opposed the ousting of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Despite Hamas' attempt to maintain balanced relations between Qatar and Egypt, the recent rapprochement between the movement and Cairo resulted in Doha and Hamas growing apart.

Basem Naim, former Palestinian health minister in the Hamas government and head of the Council on International Relations in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The relations between Hamas and Qatar are strategic, not tactical, and are not linked to political developments. Hamas has informed Qatar of the issue of reconciliation as well as its recent rapprochement with Egypt.”

Naim added, “At the same time, Hamas informed the Egyptians in recent weeks that it is faithful and grateful to Qatar for all the assistance it provides to Palestinians in Gaza. It seems clear that Doha is interested in remaining present on the Palestinian scene and I do not think it can easily abandon it, no matter how displeased it is with Hamas' rapprochement with dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan since June.”

On Oct. 24, Qatar announced its support for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah led by President Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile, it never hid its rejection of rapprochement between Hamas and Dahlan, although it never publicly declared it. But Doha considers Dahlan part of the anti-Qatar axis, which includes Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Dahlan seeks to eliminate any Qatari role in the Palestinian territories, which prompted the Qatari media to launch a strong media campaign against him in recent weeks.

Emadi has important connections in various sectors and meets with officials from the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas and other political forces, as well as businessmen and academics, a rare behavior among Arab and foreign ambassadors who visit the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor, “Qatar has provided great assistance to the Gaza Strip; the country's housing and infrastructure projects have really helped Gazans. Emadi is constantly visiting Gaza to follow up on Qatari projects and he meets with the Hamas leadership during his visits to discuss humanitarian and other issues plaguing Gaza. Hamas is interested in maintaining its relationship with Qatar and with all the components of the nation that support our people to strengthen their steadfastness on their land.”

On Dec. 19, Emadi celebrated Qatar National Day in Gaza and announced that the residents of Hamad city in the southern Gaza Strip would be exempted from financial installments on apartments. Hamad is a residential city established by Qatar in 2012 with an area of 120 dunams (roughly 30 acres) and 3,000 housing units. In addition, Emadi announced during the Dec. 19 visit that the reconstruction committee he heads is offering $3 million to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, by financing health care, education and humanitarian programs in the Gaza Strip.

The Qatari celebration was attended by senior Palestinian ministerial, parliamentary and academic figures, most notably Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas' political bureau, who said, “Qatar stood by Gaza’s side when most gave up on it, and we never let those who stand by us down.”

Hussam al-Dajani, a professor of political science at Al-Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Emadi's visit to Gaza aims to restore the Qatari role on the Palestinian scene, which has been frozen after reconciliation because of Egypt's sponsorship. Qataris may not necessarily compete against the Egyptians in the Palestinian arena, but rather work to have supportive roles.”

Dajani added, “However, I do not think that Doha will relinquish its influence in the Palestinian arena to any other regional or international party. Qatar has provided significant financial support to the Palestinians and may resume this support to Gaza to maintain stability and save its deteriorating humanitarian conditions, all the while remaining on good terms with regional and international parties— namely, the United States and Israel.”

Emadi's visit to Gaza coincided with the arrival of Abbas to Doha on Dec. 16, during which he met with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and discussed the repercussions of the decision that US President Donald Trump took on Dec. 6, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mohammed Abu Jayyab, the editor-in-chief of local newspaper Al-Eqtesadia, told Al-Monitor, “The economic agenda to Emadi’s visit this time is not as notable as previous ones, when he provided generous support for large projects. This time it was limited to only $3 million.”

Qatar formed the Gaza reconstruction committee in October 2012 to rebuild the Gaza Strip after the Israeli war in December 2008 and January 2009. It has so far carried out several construction projects in Gaza at a cost of $407 million, most notably building houses, paving roads and implementing health care projects.

Abu Jayyab noted, “This visit rather has some political objectives, mainly revolving around Qatar’s desire to eliminate Egypt’s exclusive role in reconciliation and introduce Qatar as a mediator between Hamas and Israel when it comes to the security issue, to prevent the security situation in Gaza from deteriorating and postponing any possible military confrontation between the two.”

When Emadi arrives in Gaza, he enters via Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing in the northern Gaza Strip on the border with Israel, not through the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt — either because of its almost permanent closure or due to the tension between Qatar and Egypt.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Qatari journalist Adnan Abu Halil said, “Qatar has a strategic inclination toward Palestine and provides assistance to our Palestinian brothers, and the Qatari people support the state's official policy toward the Palestinians. This support does not conflict with the international community; the Qatari policy wants to preserve international support for the Palestinians without entering into disagreements with major powers around the world.”

Sama News reported Dec. 24 that the PA would pay the salaries of the former Hamas government employees in Gaza for the coming three months, with Qatar’s support, following the agreement between the Palestinian president and the Qatari emir during Abbas’ recent visit to Doha, which pledged to coordinate with Israel to bring in funds to Gaza.

A Palestinian official close to Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The Qatari-Palestinian relations are at their best, with mutual phone calls and visits that the public is yet to find out about. Although we are well-aware of the special relationship between Hamas and Qatar, this never prevented us from developing our relationship with the latter to best serve the Palestinian cause.”

Emadi's visit to the Gaza Strip shows that Qatar is strongly returning to the Palestinian scene after its temporary absence and keeping communication channels open with both Fatah and Hamas, whether to support the Palestinian position rejecting the recent US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or to save Gaza from economic downturn by providing constant financial support.

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