How will Gulf 'sulha' impact the Palestinians? - analysis

Palestinians seem unsure whether the developments in the Gulf were good or bad for the Palestinian issue.

Now, when Israel looks out at the map, it has an alliance with two countries that face Iran directly across the Gulf (photo credit: FLICKR/MAGNUS HALSNES)
Now, when Israel looks out at the map, it has an alliance with two countries that face Iran directly across the Gulf
Palestinians from across the political spectrum welcomed this week’s sulha (reconciliation) between Saudi Arabia and its allies with Qatar, and said that they are happy to see the Arab countries resolving their disputes peacefully.
But Palestinians seemed unsure whether developments in the Gulf were good or bad for the Palestinian issue. While some Palestinians said that Arab unity would strengthen the Palestinians, others speculated that Qatar was now closer to joining the “train of normalization” with Israel.
Meanwhile, many Palestinians expressed hope that their leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would also end the dispute between the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah faction and Hamas.
“If the Saudis and Qataris are capable of ending their dispute, why can’t Fatah and Hamas stop fighting each other and achieve Palestinian unity?” several Palestinian social media users wondered.
Some Palestinians expressed fear that the reconciliation could pave the way for Qatar to follow suit with other Arab countries and normalize its relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia has supported the normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
In private, Hamas officials said that they are worried that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies would put pressure on Qatar to halt its financial and political support for Hamas. According to the officials, “losing Qatar is like cutting off oxygen supply to Hamas.”
Qatar has long been playing host to several Hamas officials, including Ismail Haniyeh and the group’s former leader, Khaled Mashal.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar after accusing the emirate of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Saudis and their allies had also criticized Qatar and the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera television network for supporting Iran.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Hamas have been strained since the arrest of dozens of Hamas members in the kingdom over the past two years. The Saudis, who consider Hamas a terrorist organization, have banned members of the group from raising funds in the kingdom.
The Saudis are also said to be angered by Hamas’s close relations with Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
Recently, Hamas criticized a secret visit to Saudi Arabia by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Hamas, in addition, has condemned the Saudi security crackdown on members of the group in the kingdom.
Hamas, whose leaders have publicly welcomed the Saudi-Qatari reconciliation, expressed concern that Qatar may distance itself from the Palestinian Islamist group as part of its effort to mend fences with Riyadh and other Gulf states.
Over the past few years, Qatar (with Israel’s approval) has delivered tens of millions of dollars in cash to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The Qataris have also played a key role in brokering ceasefire agreements between Israel and Hamas, as well as sponsoring and hosting discussions to end the Hamas-Fatah rift.
Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Risheq expressed hope that the reconciliation in the Gulf would “enhance joint [Arab] work to serve the interests of the Palestinians.”
“It now remains to be seen whether the Saudis would demand that Qatar cut off its ties with Hamas or expel the group’s leaders from Doha,” said a Ramallah-based political analyst. “But the biggest question is how will Hamas respond if Qatar, at the behest of Saudi Arabia, would normalize its relations with Israel. If that happens, I doubt if Hamas would condemn Qatar as it did with the Arab countries that signed peace treaties with Israel.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has applauded the Saudi-Qatari reconciliation, is hoping that the move would improve relations between the Palestinians and the Gulf countries. Moreover, he is hoping that the reconciliation would put the Palestinian issue back at the top of the Arab world’s list of priorities.
The 85-year-old Abbas already has good reason to be optimistic about the new developments in the Gulf. The final statement issued by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on January 5 affirmed the significance of the Palestinian issue and the need to activate the efforts of the international community to resolve the conflict in a manner that meets all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The GCC also expressed support for the two-state solution, a move that would bolster Abbas’s stance in his future dealings with the new US administration.
If Qatar dumps Hamas, that would also be good news for Abbas. Such a move would weaken his rivals and probably end their rule over the Gaza Strip.