After Hamas had been absent from Arab officials’ media statements, supporting and opposing Arab officials issued several political statements during the last week of February, prompting Hamas to respond with both positive and negative statements. Hamas has been seeking to stay away from the tension plaguing the region, but the Palestinian cause seems to form an integral part of the regional disputes.
During a conference in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 25, Mohammed al-Emadi, Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza and the chairman of Qatar's Gaza Reconstruction Committee, blamed the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Israel for the worsening economic situation in Gaza. Following Emadi's arrival in Gaza on Feb. 19, Hamas lauded Qatar's positions and assistance to the Palestinian people.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Feb. 24 in a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels that Hamas was an extremist movement. He accused Qatar of allowing Hamas to raise funds and spread hatred. On the same day, Hamas denounced Jubeir’s statement and said it was aimed at encouraging Israel to commit crimes against the Palestinian people.
Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas' political bureau and head of Arab and Islamic relations for the movement, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas is seeking to unite Arab and Islamic efforts in a bid to defend Palestinian national rights.”
He said, “We are seeking to strengthen our relations with all of the countries and actors supporting our just cause in both the region and the world and defending our legitimate right to resist the occupation and liberate our lands and holy sites."
Hamas’ welcoming of the Qatari ambassador’s speech and condemnation of the Saudi minister's statement are proof of the state of polarization facing the movement in light of the Arab differences plaguing the region.
Emadi said Feb. 25 that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were working on dealing a blow to his country on the grounds that it provided help to the Gaza Strip.
Jubeir announced on June 6 of last year that Qatar should stop supporting Hamas. And on Nov. 20, he called on Qatar to abandon the movement in order for Egypt to be able to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Saudi Ambassador to Algeria Sami al-Salih described Hamas as a terrorist movement on July 12.
Last year, Emadi had said that the total cost of projects implemented by Qatar in the Gaza Strip between 2012 and 2017 amounted to $500 million. Qatar's Gaza Reconstruction Committee has repeatedly said that its projects in Gaza contributed to the running of 65 Palestinian companies, thus benefiting 100,000 Palestinian professional and technical cadres. In July 2016, the Qatar Red Crescent announced the implementation of $1.5 million worth of health projects in Gaza. During that period, Qatar implemented housing and building projects, constructed 1,000 housing units and rehabilitated agricultural buildings and laboratories.
Qatari journalist Adnan Abu Halil told Al-Monitor, “Qatar supports the Palestinian people as a whole and not just a particular organization. Today, particularly, it might be in Qatar’s interest to declare that it is not providing any financial aid to Hamas for fear of being accused by US or Israeli parties of supporting terrorism.”
He added, “Qatar and Hamas are friends, not partners. And Hamas’ regional options are not limited to Qatar, as they include Egypt and Iran among others."
A banner reading “Thank you, Qatar” was hung at al-Katiba Square in western Gaza City on Feb. 24 along with pictures of Qatari Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, his father Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Emadi.
On Feb. 26, Fatah denounced Emadi’s blaming of President Mahmoud Abbas and said it contradicted Qatar's humanitarian role in Gaza. A Palestinian official close to Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The Palestinian cause cannot bear the negative consequences of the tension between Qatar and Turkey on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other.”
The official said, “We need all of these countries. It is true that Hamas is trying to redress the balance of its regional relations, but the fact remains that it is influenced by its proximity to some capitals, such as Doha, Ankara and Tehran.”
On Feb. 25, the Alliance of Palestinian Forces condemned Jubeir’s attack on Hamas and said his statements were dictated by the United States in the context of Saudi Arabia’s direct alliance with Israel. The alliance also condemned Jubeir’s attempt at misleading Arab public opinion in favor of Israel and distorting the image of the Palestinian resistance.
Saudi political researcher Abdul Hameed al-Hakeem attacked Hamas in a Feb. 25 tweet calling on the movement to choose between the trench of peace with Israel and the trench of what he termed "the Iranian Nazi regime."
In March 2017, Palestinian Minister of Public Works and Housing Mufid al-Hasayneh announced a grant worth $80 million from Saudi Arabia for the reconstruction of Gaza. In February 2016, Saudi Arabia provided $59 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to implement projects in Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan.
Hassan Abu Haniyeh, a Jordanian researcher focusing on Islamic movements, told Al-Monitor, “The Saudi attack on Hamas sets the stage for Israel's integration into the region by establishing an alliance between Washington, Israel and Arab dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia in a bid to confront the common threat of armed organizations, including Hamas. Saudi Arabia is trying to present itself as a partner in the war against terrorism by subduing Hamas, and one can only understand the Saudi insistence on attacking Hamas in the context of liquidating the Palestinian cause.”
Hamas may have realized that its foreign relations are moving in a minefield and is consequently trying to avoid potential crises with certain states. This is why it is running its positions very delicately out of fear of raising the ire of certain capitals.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor, “Hamas’ foreign policy consists of strengthening the steadfastness of Palestinians and getting states to issue positions in favor of the Palestinian people. To serve the interest of our people, [Hamas] is moving away from regional alignments and staying at the same distance from everyone without interfering in the internal affairs of any country.”
On Feb. 24, Emadi accused Egypt of making money out of helping Gaza with Egyptian fuel oil, which it started selling to the Palestinians in June 2017. The diesel was trucked into into Gaza at a price of 3.5 Israeli shekels per liter, equivalent to $1, while its international value was 1.8 Israeli shekels. He also said Egypt was selling bad cement to the Gaza Strip.
Hussam al-Dajani, an expert on Hamas affairs, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas regards Egypt as Gaza’s only outlet to the outside world, and the least expensive option for Hamas would be building a strong relationship with it to ease the siege. Hamas also fears the Islamic State’s control over the border between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, and it seems eager to strengthen Cairo's role in the Palestinian cause by granting it the ability to calm the situation through understandings with Israel that consist of preventing the latter from escalating the situation in Gaza. In addition, the movement is seeking to grant [Cairo] the ability to conclude a prisoner swap with Israel and achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in the hopes that Egypt would work with Western countries to remove the movement’s name from the lists of terrorism.”