Xinhua (Analysis)
October 23, 2012 - 12:00am

GAZA, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- The visit of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa al Thani on Tuesday to the Gaza Strip is politically symbolic, as it was the first ever visit of an Arab leader since Hamas' violent takeover of the coastal enclave in June 2007.

Palestinian observers see that the visit has an implication that the Islamic movement is starting getting into a new phase of ending the international boycott. They believe that the visit, which included an inauguration of vital infrastructure projects, would boost Hamas rule in the territory.

They also consider that the visit has given Hamas a great extent of political and financial support, mainly when the Emir announced that Qatar has decided to increase its grant of reconstructing in the coastal impoverished enclave to 400 million U.S. dollars instead of 245 million.

Hamas, which won in the parliamentary elections held in the Palestinian territories in 2006, has been facing an international isolation after it refused to recognize Israel and condemn terrorism. Despite this, Qatar kept good ties and contacts with the movement's leaders.

Right after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza in early 2009, Qatar held an emergency Arab League (AL) Summit boycotted by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) -- where Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, who left Syria, had been staying in Doha for more than ten months.

Talal Oukal, a Gaza-based political analyst, told Xinhua that the visit of the Qatari Emir and funding the reconstruction of infrastructure projects "is put in the frame of legalizing Hamas rule of Gaza to enable it to open up to the Arab states and to the international community."

"The visit of the Emir is the first ever visit of an Arab leader to the Gaza Strip that is still under the Israeli siege," Oukal said, expecting that the historic visit "was certainly coordinated with both Israel and the United States." However, Israel criticized the visit and said it is a support to a terrorist group like Hamas.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haneya, who accompanied the Emir all the time did not stop praising him, as he said "the visit is an end of the Israeli siege imposed on the Gaza Strip." He neglected criticism of Hamas opposition to keep good ties with Qatar, which hosts the largest military base on its lands.

However, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a press statement that the PNA has been informed in advance ten days ago about the visit of the Qatari Amir to the Gaza Strip, adding that the PNA has welcomed the visit that will contribute to reconstructing the Gaza Strip.

"We hope that Emir of Qatar will exert more efforts to convince Hamas movement to implement the reconciliation agreement signed in Doha between President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on forming a unity government and holding the elections," said Erekat.

Although the Qatari Emir called on the rival Palestinians to end division and achieve reconciliation, Oukal said he believes that the visit on Tuesday "would have negative consequences on reconciliation and is a support to Hamas on the expense of Fatah Party of President Abbas."

Ongoing disputes between Hamas and Fatah had obstructed the reconciliation deal sponsored by Qatar to end the division. The disputes are related to forming the unity government and holding the elections, where the PNA accused Hamas of not allowing the Palestinian central elections commission in Gaza to act.

Although the Qatari Emir asked Abbas for permission to visit Gaza to start construction projects, the visit was largely slammed by PNA officials who declined to speak on the event, warning that the visit would affect the Palestinian unity.

Ibrahim Abrash, a political science professor at al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Xinhua that the Qatari Emir did not come to inaugurate projects in the Gaza Strip, "he came to inaugurate the Emirate of Hamas," adding that the visit "would severe any hope for any future reconciliation with Fatah."

But, Hamed Jad, a local Palestinian journalist specialized in economic affairs, said to Xinhua that the Qatari grant "will flourish the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and improve the deteriorated economy, mainly in the fields of housing and agriculture."

"I believe that the Qatari-funded projects would create at least 15,000 job opportunity which basically suffers from poverty and unemployment," Jad said, adding that the Qatari grant will enlarge the horizons of improving economy in Gaza and end more deterioration that has been going on for several years.

The Qatari grant would fund a housing complex with 1,000 apartment, rebuild Gaza Strip main road (40 km long), funding agricultural projects and building up a special hospital for treating difficult physical disabilities.


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