Adel Zaanoun
Arab News (Opinion)
October 26, 2012 - 12:00am

The Qatari emir’s visit to Gaza may have been a political coup for the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers, but it was not aimed at supporting a separate entity there, analysts say.
And many commentators believe that in receiving Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the first head of state to visit since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Hamas is seeking closer ties with the Gulf states while pulling away from Syria and Iran.

“The idea of pouring millions of dollars into rebuilding Gaza is aimed at taming Hamas and creating a normal life far from armed resistance, and getting them involved in a state-building project,” explained Bassem Zubeidi, professor of political science at Bir Zeit University near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Hamas is very well aware of Qatar’s relationship with the United States and its excellent ties with Israel,” he said.
“It is acting pragmatically and knows very well in which basket to place its eggs, taking account of what is happening in Syria and the international threats against Iran” over its disputed nuclear program, Zubeidi added.

Yoel Guzansky, research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies agreed that the emir’s high-profile visit was linked to Hamas’ attempts to distance itself from Iran and Syria.
“In general, the visit is perceived as a reward to Hamas for its disengagement from Iran and Syria,” he wrote in Wednesday’s Maariv newspaper.

“Hamas is exploiting this for a psychological achievement vis-à-vis Israel (portraying it) as success in breaking the Israeli siege on Gaza,” he said, referring to a political boycott of the Hamas government and a physical embargo which has since 2006 banned the import of construction materials into the territory.
Almost all of the Gaza-based representatives of the PLO factions boycotted the visit because they felt it would only exacerbate the political divide between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’ rival Fatah movement, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

“Everyone believes Hamas will use this to reinforce the split,” Azzam Al-Ahmad, a senior member of Fatah’s Central Committee, told the official Voice of Palestine radio, although he did note that the Qatari leader had been careful in how he related to Hamas.

“Sheikh Hamad did not mention the word ‘government’ in his speeches nor did he visit the so-called prime minister’s headquarters,” he said.

In his speech at Gaza’s Islamic University, the emir urged the rival factions to overcome their bitter political rift.

“The division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is what is most damaging to your cause,” he said, in a tone markedly different from that of his hosts.

“It’s about time the Palestinians turned over the page of division and opened a new chapter for reconciliation and agreement, based on the agreements in Doha and Cairo, with sincere efforts from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and head of the Hamas political bureau Khaled Meshaal,” he said.

“There are neither peace negotiations nor a clear strategy of resistance and liberation. So why don’t the Palestinians try to unify their positions and face the world with its long-overdue obligation (to ensure) a just peace acceptable to Israel and to which it would be held accountable?” he said.
For veteran Palestinian commentator Daud Kuttab, such words carried weight.

“The Qatari leader called on Palestinians to unite and, at the same time, impressed on them the need for a reasonable negotiating position vis-à-vis Israel.

These words of moderation have been spoken by many and often, but when they are said by an Arab head of state in Gaza, they resonate much more,” he wrote in the Jordan Times on Thursday.
But others questioned the emir’s sincerity.

“The emir only spoke of reconciliation so that Qatar will not be accused of taking sides,” said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University.

“The visit will have a negative impact on the division which could, however be overcome by political will,” he said, saying the visit “could encourage other Arab heads of state” to make the same trip.

But he was quick to point out that the visit did not signal Qatar’s recognition of a separate political entity in Gaza.

“The emir of Qatar didn’t come to recognize the state of Gaza, but to provide political, moral and humanitarian support,” he said.

Naji Sharab, also a political scientist at Al-Azhar University said it was “a show of support for the Hamas government in Gaza, and from that point of view, you could see it as a deepening of the division.”

But on the other hand Qatar was “strengthening its relationship with Hamas and increasing its influence and role in the Gaza Strip, and as a result its capacity to push for reconciliation,” he said.


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