By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, GATESTONE—
The U.S. Administration has sought to downplay the significance of this week’s visit to the Gaza Strip by the Emir of Qatar, Hamad al-Thani.
“We have seen the reports that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa visits Gaza today on a humanitarian mission,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We share Qatar’s deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza.”
Many Palestinians, especially the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank, do not share the U.S. Administration’s position regarding the emir’s visit.
Palestinian Authority leaders do not see the visit as a “humanitarian mission,” but as an attempt to strengthen Hamas.
In fact, the high-profile visit of the emir and his wife to the Gaza Strip was anything but a “humanitarian mission.”
This was a visit that has political and economic implications, not only for the Palestinians, but for the entire region as well.
True, the emir promised to invest $400 million in various projects in the Gaza Strip. It remains to be seen if the Qatari ruler will fulfill his promise.
The timing of the visit raises many questions and sheds light as to the emir’s true motives.
Qatar has always been supportive not only of Hamas, but Muslim Brotherhood and many jihadi organizations.
If Qatar really had “deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people,” where was the emir during the past seven years?
As the emir himself pointed out during the visit, it was the so-called Arab Spring — which has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of Arab countries over the past two years – that paved the way for his visit to the Gaza Strip.
“Were it not for the Egyptian revolution and President Mohamed Morsi,” the emir said, “the visit would not have taken place.”
The emir came to the Gaza Strip to offer not only financial aid to Hamas, but also moral and political backing. The visit, the first of its kind by a head of state to the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized control over the area in 2007, was aimed at helping the Islamist movement break the state of isolation in which it has been since then.
The emir did not come to the Gaza Strip to try to persuade Hamas to abandon terror and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Nor did he come to the Gaza Strip to tell Hamas to endorse democracy and stop its oppressive measures against Palestinians, particularly women.
The emir’s visit is a huge diplomatic victory for Hamas and a severe blow to moderate Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian leaders in the West Bank were quick to express deep disappointment with the emir’s visit, rightly arguing that it would only enhance Hamas’s standing and empower the radical camp among the Palestinians.
The emir’s visit also means that the Gaza Strip has become a separate Palestinian entity that has no link to the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, and which is capable of conducting its running its own economy and foreign policy.
The visit has actually solidified the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, turning Abbas’s effort to establish an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines into a fantasy; if he tried to establish a Palestinian state on the West Bank alone, would be accused of “abandoning” the dream of creating a full, united, Palestinian state, and of dividing Palestine into two states.
Finally, the emir’s visit to the Gaza Strip also serves Qatar’s wish of becoming a major player in the region as well as in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Syria, Iran and Egypt, countries which once used to have enormous influence over Hamas, have been pushed aside by Qatar’s ruler and his promise of big checks.