The emir of oil-rich Qatar visited Hamas-controlled Gaza Tuesday, laden with a new weapon - money. The visit was accompanied by bitter condemnation for Israel while upsetting secular Arabs, particularly the Fatah movement led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
His visit was the first by a foreign leader to Gaza since Hamas overthrow Fatah in a bloody militia war five years five years ago. Since then, the Palestinian Authority has been physically and politically fractured.
Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani handed Hamas its biggest diplomatic victory since taking power while illustrating the rising power of Qatar and the mounting influence of Hamas' parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, AFP reported.
Speaking at the Islamic University, which has been a hotbed of terrorist activity, the sheikh asked, "Why are you staying divided? There are no peace negotiations, and there is no clear strategy of resistance and liberation. Why shouldn't brothers sit together and reconcile?"
His words carry as much weight as his check of $250 million for a hospital and homes in Gaza, as well as pledge for nearly another quarter of a billion of dollars.
The emir spoke of “peace negotiations" and “resistance and liberation” in the same breath, and Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor responded, "It is quite strange that the emir of Qatar should take sides with Hamas, that he will favor Hamas over Fatah that he would even decide to take sides in the Palestinian internal conflict... By hugging Hamas publicly, the emir of Qatar has thrown peace under the bus."
De facto Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh kissed and embraced Sheikh Hamad and declared, "Your visit today officially announces the break of the economic blockade and political blockade imposed on Gaza by the forces of injustice."
Hamas orchestrated a grand welcome for the emir, but the cancellation of his speech at a Gaza stadium, which was sparsely filled before his scheduled appearance, brought to question whether the festival atmosphere was genuine,
The emir’s visit could turn out to be disastrous mistake, analysts told The Daily Beast.
“I think the Qataris are trying to orchestrate the new map of the Middle East and the way to do that is to invest and support the political systems of various countries,” Munther Dajani, a Palestinian political scientist at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, told the magazine website.
“The Qataris know very well they are supporting a government in Gaza that took power through a coup d’état,” he said. “I think they’re committing a mistake by doing that.”
If the emir is trying to buy unity between Fatah and Hamas, he may have it deliver some checks to Ramallah as well.
Fatah leaders angrily branded the visit to Gaza as deepening the divisions within the Palestinian Authority.
“Looking for a political power in the region at the expense of the Palestinian people and their rights and unity is unacceptable,” Fatah stated.
Fatah either was not invited for the emir’s visit to Gaza and boycotted it, depending on which source one believes.
Fatah leader Yahya Rabah said his faction had not been invited by Qatar or Hamas while Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu insisted that Fatah had declined an invitation to attend the welcome ceremony.