'Palestinians punished for democracy'

Qatari sheikh slams West's "double standard" in cutting funds to Hamas.

Sheik Hamad 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sheik Hamad 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, on Wednesday criticized the West for boycotting the Hamas government, saying that Palestinians are being punished for practicing democracy. Western donors have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority, and Israel has also suspended vital tax transfers to the Palestinians over the group's refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and to accept past peace deals. Qatar, which hosts the Al-Jazeera TV network and the US military's Middle East command headquarters, has played an increasingly important role in the Middle East since ending its isolationist foreign policy. The tiny Gulf state has retained ties with Hamas and helps keep the group afloat with private and public financial contributions. It is believed to have leverage over both Hamas and its Palestinian rival, Fatah. "Instead of rewarding the Palestinian people for practicing democracy, something rarely witnessed in our region, they have been punished for it," Sheik Hamad said in an address to the European Parliament. Hamas, which killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, has refrained from large-scale violence since winning Palestinian legislative elections in January. But the government it leads has been hobbled by sanctions because of Hamas' refusal to rescind its call for Israel's destruction. The European Union, the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority, is among several world powers that suspended direct aid to the government after Hamas took power. The cutoff has plunged Gaza and the West Bank into financial chaos. However, with other international donors, the EU has maintained emergency aid which bypasses the Hamas-led government. "I do not understand how an embargo can be imposed on a government that has been democratically elected and how collective sanctions can be imposed on the whole of the people," Sheik Hamad said. "Is this not a double standard: to demand a free vote and then object to its results?"