Analysts: Qatar supports Gaza not Hamas

The recent Qatar-GCC rift has to do with an attempt to impose a new leadership on the Palestinians, analysts say.

Ismail Haniyeh, newly elected head of Hamas political office, looks on as he visits a sit-in in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in Gaza City
Ismail Haniya, Hamas' newly elected political bureau chief, is based in Gaza, unlike Khaled Meshaal who recently stepped down and was operating from Qatar [Reuters]

On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, called on Qatar to end its support for the Gaza-based Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. But it is Qatar’s strength as a regional player, rather than its support for Hamas, that is at the heart of the recent rift between some GCC countries and Qatar, analysts told Al Jazeera. 

“The pressure on Qatar is not to do with Hamas, but it’s the fact that it is a successful state that tries to engage in dialogue and it has been very successful in solving issues in the region,” says Waleed al-Modallal, head of political science at the Islamic University of Gaza.

“Qatar is a small country playing a big role in the region. That is what seems to have angered the bigger countries nearby,” Modallal told Al Jazeera by phone from Gaza.

Jubeir’s statements came shortly after Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, severed diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar on Monday, with air, sea, and land borders shut down and Qatari diplomats and residents expelled from the neighbouring countries. Yemen, Libya, the Maldives, Mauritania, followed later and broke off diplomatic ties, as well.

Jordan also announced that it will downgrade its diplomatic representation in Qatar, and asked the Qatari ambassador to leave.

The rift is the worst to hit the Gulf states in decades. 

Al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris on Tuesday that Qatar was undermining the Palestinian Authority and Egypt through its support of Hamas and the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas responded to Jubair’s statements in a press release, stating: “We express deep regret and indignation at the statements made by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir against Hamas, which we consider to be alien to the kingdom’s positions”.

The movement said the minister’s remarks “are a shock to our Palestinian people and our Arab and Islamic nation, which considers the Palestinian cause its central cause”.

“We in Hamas call on the brothers in Saudi Arabia to stop these statements that harm the Kingdom and its positions towards the cause of our people and legitimate rights.”

Qatar has long hosted Hamas’ political leaders in Doha and has provided large sums of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, which has undergone a decade-long Israeli blockade and three Israeli assaults that massively damaged its infrastructure.

READ MORE: Gazans worried by Qatari crisis

Some analysts interpreted Qatar’s diplomatic approach as supportive of Hamas, though Qatar repeatedly stated that its policy was one of engagement with all sides to push for peace.

Qatar is supportive of Gaza, not Hamas, and it has supported the Palestinian Authority in Gaza more than once.

by Belal Shobaki, political analyst

Analysts say Qatar’s role has been to accommodate and support the Palestinian political players, namely Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, a semi-governmental body that administers the Israeli-occupied West Bank, rather than supporting one over the other.

“We cannot speak of financial support. Qatar is only hosting Hamas and standing by it and its positions,” said Modallal. “Qatar’s position has been to balance between all the sides – it has supported the PA and Hamas.” Qatar has – on multiple occasions – expressed its support of a two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Despite hosting Hamas’ political leaders, Qatar’s vision for peace was in direct contradiction with Hamas’ until recently when Hamas changed its long-held position on the two-state solution in a new political document.

In 2006, Qatar attempted to bridge the divide between Fatah, the ruling party of the PA, and Hamas, asking the movement to recognise the state of Israel and renounce violence as a form of resistance, which Hamas rejected. A year later, Qatar also hosted the former Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, where it tried to encourage Israel to negotiate directly with Hamas.

And, in the 2017 Arab League Summit in Jordan, Qatar was among the 22 member states that backed the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative, supportive of a two-state solution in return for normalisation of relations with Israel.

“Qatar supports Gaza, not Hamas, and it has supported the Palestinian Authority in Gaza more than once, thus dismissing claims that Doha’s support for Gaza is political support for Hamas,” Hebron-based political analyst, Belal Shobaki told Al Jazeera.

READ MORE: The Muslim Brotherhood and Trump’s terror list

And while the humanitarian support to Gaza may indirectly serve Hamas, Shobaki says that Doha “saved the PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ authority from collapsing more than once when the deficit in the PA budget has been blocked”. 

Hamas links to the Muslim Brotherhood are also at heart of the Saudi foreign minister’s statements, analysts say. 

The US-allied Arab countries, Egypt, Saudi, and the UAE designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation”. Although in its founding charter Hamas defined itself as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement clarified its position in the new document describing itself as a purely Palestinian movement.

READ MORE: Hamas decries Trump’s terror allegation

The other angle, says Shobaki, is the UAE-Egyptian interest in “imposing a new leadership on the Palestinian people,” referring to Mohammed Dahlan, a controversial figure whose membership in the Fatah Central Committee was revoked after an exchange of corruption claims between himself and Mahmoud Abbas.

Living in exile in Dubai, Dahlan has forged relations with Egyptian and Emirati leaders who have reportedly backed a plan for his takeover of the Palestinian presidency after Abbas.

“The target of this Gulf and Egyptian pressure is not only Qatar, Hamas, the Brotherhood, but even the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah,” said Shobaki.

“What is happening now is an attempt to impose a new leadership on the Palestinian people to be exported from Dubai, represented by Mohammed Dahlan, to pave the way for new concessions in relation to the Israeli occupation.” 

Source: Al Jazeera