Hamas soldiers before arrival of Qatari Emir
Hamas soldiers before arrival of Qatari EmirAFP Photo

The U.S. State Department has departed from its policy of damning visits to Gaza and said the Qatari emir’s historic tour to Gaza and meeting with de facto Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was a “humanitarian mission.”

The emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, was the first foreign leader to visit Gaza since Hamas wrested control from the rival Fatah faction in a bloody militia war five years ago.

The Bush and Obama administrations have had a consistent policy of discouraging official visits to Gaza because Hamas is a declared illegal terrorist organization.

The State Dept. made a tacit exception in the case of the visit of Sheikh Hamad, who brought with him $250 million for housing and other projects, and he promised an almost equal sum in the near future.

“We’ve seen the reports that he visited Gaza today on a humanitarian mission,” State Dept. spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Tuesday. “We share Qatar’s deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza.”

Nuland's only remarks that could imply condemnation of Hamas were limited to her concern “about Hamas’s destabilizing role in Gaza and the region,” without mention of the rocket attacks and bomb explosion that seriously wounded an IDF officer as the emir was on his way to Gaza.

The State Dept.’s tepid response bore out the diplomatic victory Hamas scored by hosting the emir.

Nuland, asked if she considers the visit “a recognition of the legitimacy of the Hamas government,” answered, “Well, again, the Qataris have described this as a humanitarian mission. I think we all have humanitarian concerns. We would hope that the opportunity was taken to make clear the importance of Palestinians and Israelis talking to each other, and we’ve been very clear about our concerns about Hamas.”

Nuland refused to be pushed into a position of having to say anything negative around the oil-rich kingdom’s support of Hamas.

The State Dept. previously has tried to convince foreign officials not to visit Gaza, but when asked if she would have advice for Sheikh Hamad beforehand, she said, “I’m not going to get into hypothetical conversations that we didn’t have.”