October 17, 2012
The Emirate of Qatar formally announced its intention to invest $254,000,000 in the Gaza Strip. The money will be used to build a new hospital, new residential projects, new roads and new physical infrastructure. The investment is expected to generate thousands of job opportunities for the people of Gaza who struggle with a 30% unemployment rate. There were rumors that the Qatari Emir and/or his wife, Princess Moza, were supposed to have visited Gaza this week, but the trip was postponed. This explains the fact that Gaza Streets were recently lined with huge billboards and posters of the Qatari Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani with word “shukran” (“thank you” in Arabic). Rumors of the supposed visit and cancellation were denied by a Qatari spokesperson, but it is very possible that a visit of a senior Qatari delegation to the Gaza Strip will take place soon.
In another interesting announcement, the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, recently announced that “Gaza will hear very good news soon.” There are rumors that Egypt is going to permanently open the Rafah crossing.
There is also talk of some very senior Arab and Muslim leaders planning to visit the Gaza Strip soon – including perhaps the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, Khaled Mashaal.
In order to understand the significance of these events, it is important to understand a very important process that took place over the past year. In 2012 the relationship between Hamas and Egypt strengthened, while and at the same time Hamas detached itself from the Iranian-Syrian axis.
Hamas made a decision to join the Egyptian-Qatari axis, with the full understanding that there is a price to pay – Hamas is expected to act responsibly and they are expected to be an entity that enhances stability. And Hamas is well-tuned to these expectations.
Egypt is facing enormous challenges – economically, socially and politically and they need stability. Under severe Egyptian pressure, Hamas has increased its operations against Salafi-Jihadist groups in the Gaza strip. And more significant, due to Egyptian pressure, Hamas has reduced the tunnel smuggling industry – an act which is, to a large extent, counter to Hamas’ interests.
So what does Qatar want? Qatar has a different agenda. Qatar wants to become a front-line regional leader. And to that end, Qatar uses the two most powerful resources it has at its disposal:
One is money, in addition to the $254,000,000 Qatar is investing in Gaza, they are getting involved in politics and are also investing huge amounts of money throughout in the region including:
- $1,250,000,000 in Jordanian investments
- $18,000,000,000 in Egypt’s economy
- $10,000,000,000 in grants to Libya
- Arming the Free Syrian Army and funding the salaries of its militants
- Allowing 250,000 young Egyptians to work in Qatar on a five-year contract which they can renew no strings attached
- Providing the Gaza Strip with 30,000 tons of diesel to power the electric power plants in the Gaza Strip which struggle with severe electric outages
The other means at their disposal is the influential Al Jazeera news network:
- Established by the Qatari Emir in 1995 to enhance Qatar’s agenda and ambitions, Al Jazeera has been one of Qatar’s most effective platforms of influence.
- It is also a tool that gives Qatar access to the inner-circle of power in the region. For example, the current Foreign Affairs Minister of Tunisia, who was also the son-in-law of the Head of the Muslim Brotherhood political party in Tunisia, was the head of Al Jazeera’s research institute.
How does all of this impact Israel?
Joining the Egyptian-Qatari axis accelerates the strengthening of the pragmatic wing of Hamas, the wing that wants to ensure Hamas’ rule through fulfilling its governmental responsibilities to the people of Gaza. A clear sign of that development was recently manifested in the creation of a new Hamas government which includes more members who are affiliated with the pragmatic wing.
Additionally, this process weakens the hard-line wing in Hamas that espouses the concept that the fight against Israel is the only way to strengthen and ensure Hamas’ rule. (For more information please read my article The Gaza Jungle: Hamas is Under Stress and other Predators Smell It , April 2011 and Is War in the Middle East Inevitable?, February 2012).
The strengthening of the pragmatic wing of Hamas is a positive development because it could create an environment that would potentially be more stable and secure for both the people of Gaza and the people of Israel.
That being said, it is also likely that this process will increase the tension between Hamas and other organizations in the Gaza Strip like the Islamic Jihad or other Jihadist groups whose goal is to maintain and escalate the conflict with Israel.