People look at pigeons at the Souq Waqif market in Doha, Qatar.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the 10 years since Hamas forces violently expelled the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip, the terrorist group has brought the coastal enclave to ruin through mismanagement, violence and neglect; an essential service as basic as electricity has been cut to no more than four hours a day. If not for the political and financial lifeline provided by Qatar, Hamas’s rule would likely have collapsed years ago.
Last week, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other countries severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir specifically cited Qatari support of Hamas and its parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood, as the impetus for the current diplomatic crisis. In response, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani defended Hamas as a “legitimate resistance movement.”
It is time for Qatar to recognize Hamas for what it is: a murderous terrorist group that has set back the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and stolen precious resources from the Gazan people.
Hamas first came to power in 2006’s Palestinian legislative elections. The international community largely shunned the new Hamas-led Palestinian government. The United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations – the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers – demanded Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by past Palestinian agreements in order to receive recognition.
Hamas chose to do none of the above. And after a year of factional fighting (political and physical) with rival Fatah, Hamas forces drove Fatah and the PA from Gaza on June 15, 2007. Cut off from the West Bank, the PA and the international community Hamas’s rule should have quickly ended, particularly after Hamas rocket fire into Israel the following year sparked the first of three wars with Israel.
Instead, Qatar continued to provide Hamas with hundreds of millions of dollars to pay salaries and to rebuild Gaza after the devastating wars Hamas initiated with Israel. In October 2012, then-Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani even defied Hamas’s international isolation and became the first foreign head of state to visit the Gaza Strip after Hamas violently seized control.
In Qatar itself, now-former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has been a “dear guest” of the Qatari government, despite US sanctions against him. Last month, Mashaal and Hamas held a press conference at the Sheraton hotel in Doha to announce the group’s new guiding political document, which Hamas heralded as a sign of its moderation. However, the new document simply reiterated Hamas’s commitment to armed jihad in order to replace all of Israel with a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.” According to the new document, “armed resistance” remains Hamas’s “strategic choice.”
In the same week that Qatar’s neighbors determined its support for terrorism could no longer be tolerated, the United Nations discovered Hamas tunnels beneath one of its schools in Gaza. As the summer months threaten sweltering temperatures, Gazans have fewer than four hours of electricity each day to run refrigeration or air conditioning. The responsibility of governance has not moderated Hamas, and the leaders of the Arab world now recognize the disastrous consequences of Hamas’s violent coup. All except one. Despite Hamas’s continued commitment to terrorism and its blatant disregard for the people of Gaza and international institutions, Qatari support for Hamas remains steadfast.
As the Gazan people mark 10 years of oppressive Hamas rule by candlelight, they have Doha to thank for their continued suffering. Qatar’s purse strings must first be closed if Gaza is to ever break free.The author is the executive director of the Counter Extremism Project, a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideology.