Qatar emir's Gaza visit draws fire from PA, Israel

Israel, Palestinian leaders in Ramallah criticize Hamad bin Thani ahead of upcoming visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Abbas, Mashaal, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Abbas, Mashaal, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel and the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah agree on one thing: Qatar’s Emir Hamad bin Thani should not be visiting the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
PA officials expressed fear that the visit of the emir would bolster Hamas’s standing not only among Palestinians, but also in the Arab, Islamic and international arenas.
This would be the first visit by a head of state to the Gaza Strip since Hamas drove the PA out in 2007. The PA has since been working hard to convince Arab and Islamic countries to boycott Hamas for carrying out a “violent and bloody coup” in the Gaza Strip. But the visit of the Qatari leader to the territory could mark the beginning of the end of Hamas’s isolation.
The visit sends a message to the rest of the world that the Hamas regime is a legitimate government and that the Gaza Strip is an independent political and geographic entity.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s absence in receiving the emir is seen as a severe blow to his claim that he is the legitimate and elected leader of the Palestinians.
Abbas was not invited to receive the emir upon his arrival in the Gaza Strip, leaving the task to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The PA’s biggest fear is that the visit would solidify the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip – creating the impression that the Palestinians already have two separate states.
Israel is also unhappy with the visit, and the message it sends.
“It is quite strange that the emir of Qatar should choose sides within the Palestinian camp, and choose the wrong side while he is at it,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
“What this visit means is that he sides with Hamas, and not with the PA, which he never visited,” Palmor added.
Palmor said Israel hoped the emir would provide support “only to those Palestinians who do not promote violence and extremists, though some skepticism is allowed.”
Another government official noted that with a few notable exceptions – such as Russia and Turkey – the international community has accepted the three conditions articulated by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan for engagement with Hamas: that the organization forswears terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Palestinian agreements with Israel.
“We urge the international community to abide by those benchmarks,” the official said.
Noting that missiles and rockets from Gaza continue to fall on Israel, he added that the idea that Hamas was playing a more positive role “is baloney.”
The emir phoned Abbas on Sunday to “notify” him of the planned visit to the Gaza Strip.
However, he did not invite Abbas to join him and it is highly unlikely that the PA president would have accepted the invitation. Abbas wants to avoid a situation where he appears to be arriving in the Gaza Strip as a foreign leader and not as the leader of the PA.
Although Abbas has publicly welcomed the emir’s visit, his aides said that he was “very disappointed.”
They said that during the phone conversation, Abbas affirmed the need to “preserve the unity of the Palestinian territories and end Palestinian divisions.”
In other words, Abbas expressed fear that the emir’s visit would solidify the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and embolden Hamas to a point where it would not be prepared to make any concessions to end the power struggle with the PA president’s Fatah faction.
Fatah officials said that the Hamas government did not invite any of their representatives in the Gaza Strip to participate in the reception for the Qatari emir.
Yehya Rabah, a top Fatah official, said that the goal of the visit was “unclear,” adding that the emir did not receive permission from the “legitimate leadership” of the Palestinians to visit the Gaza Strip.
“We can’t welcome the visit of the emir and his wife to the Gaza Strip,” said political analyst Adel Abdel Rahman, who is affiliated with Fatah.
“The visit does not serve the unity of the Palestinian territories, the people and the political system. On the contrary, the visit poses a threat to unity and our political system.”
Bin Thani is officially visiting Gaza to inaugurate reconstruction projects worth over $240 million invested by Qatar.
Abdel Rahman said that Qatar’s investment plan was also “unwelcome.” He added that the plan was actually aimed at deepening divisions among the Palestinians, especially because it was not being coordinated with the PA leadership in the West Bank. The analyst claimed that the emir’s visit would only serve Israel’s interest of separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official closely associated with Abbas, also voiced concern that the emir’s visit would consolidate divisions among the Palestinians.
He said that Fatah believes that the emir should have coordinated his visit with the PA leadership in the West Bank.