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Qatar’s break with Hamas shakes up Mideast politics

Recently, the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar announced that it was putting a halt to its financing of the terrorist group Hamas, which has a tenuous hold on the Gaza Strip. Instead, it will redirect those funds to humanitarian projects in the coastal enclave, in accordance with the United Nations, and with the approval of Israel.

Doha’s envoy to Gaza, Muhammad Al Emadi, also announced that after April, Qatar will no longer finance the Gaza Strip’s monthly electricity bill, because of Hamas’s foot-dragging on several large, needed projects, including a long-delayed high-voltage power line from Israel that could double Gaza’s supply of electrical power. While Qatar has long played a controversial and highly-criticized role in Gaza, its new tough approach to Hamas – which has badly mismanaged Gaza while inflaming conflict between Palestinians and Israelis – represents a rupture that could irreparably damage the terrorist group’s credibility on the street, which until now has been the source of its power.

Qatar’s funding has been significant and has greatly helped Hamas holding on to power. Between 2012 and 2018, Qatar provided Hamas with over $1.1 billion. Haaretz estimates that about 44% of the money provided by Qatar during this period was invested in infrastructure, while approximately 40% was used for education and healthcare.

In its effort to reconstruct Gaza, Qatar had hoped its commitment to more than 110 projects and its construction of 4,800 apartments, roads and hospitals would lead to a more stable Gaza Strip and an improved quality of life for the Palestinians who live there. However, as is evidenced by the rising tensions along the Israel-Gaza border, Hamas has stuck to its terrorist roots and failed to effectively govern and implement the many projects and opportunities presented by both Israel and Qatar.

The escalating conflict stems in large part from Hamas’s refusal to honor the commitments made in November. Violations include nighttime demonstrations on the border and the launching of incendiary balloons, which are now also carrying bombs.

This should come as no surprise. Hamas, lest we forget, is classified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Department of State, and its terrorist status was recently reiterated by the European Union.

Qatar, Egypt, Israel and UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov are all scrambling to stabilize the situation in Gaza before March 30. This date, which is known by Palestinians and some Israeli Arabs as Land Day, will also mark the one-year anniversary of the weekly Hamas-led protests on the Israel-Gaza border, and comes shortly before the April 9 Israeli elections.

However, so long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza, sustainable development and peace that depend on projects – including those proposed and financed by Qatar – will be impossible to achieve. So with an eye on the long game, Qatar took action.

The timing of Qatar’s break with Hamas is propitious for another reason. Even within Gaza, Hamas is not popular because of its refusal and inability to provide for the Palestinians who live there. According to one recent poll, only 35% of Gazans now support Hamas. Qatar’s move can thus deepen the public split with the group, further isolate it in Palestinian politics, and bring about the end of whatever legitimacy it once held. The message is, what Palestinians in Gaza want and need – jobs and improvements in quality of life – can in fact be provided without the help of Hamas, which has predicated its authority solely on confrontation.

Indeed, Qatar has now pledged that it will redirect hundreds of millions of dollars more through United Nations aid groups such as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. With Israeli approval, Qatar has already given $50 million to UNRWA, and this redirection of funds for development and humanitarian underscores that the interests of the Palestinian people are better served through accountable, legitimate international agencies than through the Hamas policy of terror and confrontation.

Hamas does not recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel. It has managed to isolate itself from Qatar – one of its strongest remaining supporters – and more importantly, from the Palestinian people themselves. By pulling its purse strings, Qatar is sending a message to Hamas’s leadership that the group has betrayed the trust of the Palestinian people and has been an obstacle to their progress. This notion strikes at the heart of the group’s claims to legitimacy. Adrift and with a sagging political base, a discredited Hamas may at last be bound for the rubbish heap of history.

 

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