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  June 18, 2017

Isolating Qatar and the Implications for Hamas and the People of Gaza

Qatar is an important supporter of Hamas and as the friction against Qatar grows in the region it will be difficult to deliver aid, the consequences for Hamas and the Gaza Strip will be severe, explains Imad Alsoos of the Free University of Berlin
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Sharmini Peries: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Early this month, a group of six countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. It stopped trade and even denied Qatari aircrafts and watercrafts from passing through their territories. The six countries are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, and the Maldives. They were then joined by Jordan and Mauritius, further isolating this small peninsula country.

This move was made shortly after the visit of President Trump to Saudi Arabia. And the reason given was that Qatar allegedly supports terror organizations. Indeed it is known that Qatar gives support to the Palestinian Hamas party which President Trump listed in his speech in Saudi Arabia to leaders of Muslim countries. Let's listen.

President Trump: "The true toll of ISIS if you look at what's happening, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It also must be counted in generations of vanished dreams."

Sharmini Peries: Now we know Hamas is a Palestinian political party. And it is well known that it is an armed organization, which was founded in 1980s to resist Israeli occupation combining guerrilla warfare with Islamic values. This is nothing new. It's name in Arabic is Harakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyya, meaning Movement of Islamic Resistance. Hamas is an opposition party in Palestine, currently in control of the Gaza Strip. And in a state of ongoing confrontation with Israeli military. Recently Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been under extreme economic pressure, both by the Israeli government and by the Palestinian government in Ramallah, which is causing a severe water and electricity shortages.

Will Qatar's predicament have implications for Hamas as well? Now joining us to discuss this is Dr. Imad Alsoos. He's a PhD from the Free University of Berlin. He is a scholar of the Hamas party and of Palestinian nationalism. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Alsoos.

Dr. Alsoos: Thank you so much for having me.

Sharmini Peries: Dr. Alsoos, just as soon as diplomatic siege against Qatar had been launched early this month, the foreign minister of Qatar issued an announcement that the Hamas representatives in Doha, the capital of Qatar, will be the ones promoting reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah parties in Palestine. Is Qatar using Hamas to try to get out of this diplomatic bind they're in?

Dr. Alsoos: I'm not sure if Qatar is using Hamas, but we can talk about mutual interests. And this mediation role that Qatar is playing, it started long time ago. And like for example, in Yemen between the Houthis and the Yemeni government in 2008. And also in Lebanon in 2008. And Darfur in 2011. And finally, a mediation role between Fatah and Hamas. And this mediation role Qatar is trying to play, in order to occupy or to open a political and diplomatic space. And this role can be played by many countries, especially tiny countries like Qatar. But I can add that Qatar has always been an honest broker between Fatah and Hamas. Not like, for example, the Egyptian government, except the two years of the revolution, always sided on backing Fatah against Hamas. So I'm not sure that it is using Hamas, but it is an honest, let's say neutral arbiter.

Sharmini Peries: I understand that researchers at Tel Aviv University, which we should add is a right wing Zionist institution close to the Israeli government, argues that Israeli interest is to use the isolation of Qatar to weaken the status of Iran as well as Hamas. But without preventing Qatar from sending financial support to the Gaza Strip and from promoting mediation with Hamas, what will happen to Hamas without Qatari aid?

Dr. Alsoos: Without Qatari aid, Hamas could be more weakened in Gaza. Because Qatar almost is the only country that's supporting Gaza, not Hamas. Because Hamas supported basically especially the military wing by Iran. But Qatar supporting the infrastructure with companies that are not related to Hamas. So Qatar is always playing within the rule of the games. And this has been very obvious in the visit of Prince Hamad Al Thani in 2012 to Gaza. All the agreements were done with the independent companies, not with Hamas. And this is why I think the Israelis and the Americans let Qatar to intervene in Gaza.

Sharmini Peries: Right. So what will this situation really mean? Will the crisis lead to a more likely reconciliation between Palestinian parties Hamas and Fatah? Or to a more aggressive resistance against Israeli occupation in a desperate attempt on the part of Hamas to gain more legitimacy?

Dr. Alsoos: You mean the Gulf Crisis against Qatar?

Sharmini Peries: Yes.

Dr. Alsoos: Yes. I mean the objective of the countries are sieging Qatar is to weaken Hamas and to classify it as a terroristic group. And this could lead to the escalation of the situation in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. But I think in this regard, Egypt predicted to include Hamas in the official document issued by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to be classified as a terrorist group or a target of the blockade. And in this case, Hamas is not included officially in this crisis.

Sharmini Peries: Dr. Alsoos, I understand that the head of Gaza, Sinwar, has just met with Mohammed Dahlan from the Fatah party in Cairo. Now Dahlan is said to have good relations with Egyptian government but has been marginalized from the Fatah party by President Mahmoud Abbas during the last Fatah conference. What do you make of this meeting and will it lead to anything constructive?

Dr. Alsoos: For Hamas government in Gaza, it could lead to something constructive because the Halan is supported by the United Arab Emirates. And he has a very good relation with Egypt. And if he can mediate between Egypt and Gaza, this can ease the blockade to Gaza, especially through Rafah crossing. And could in a few days or a few weeks, could Egypt provide fuel for the electricity station in Gaza. I think this new relations between a bitter former enemy of Hamas into a new friend, this could ease the blockade on Gaza.

Sharmini Peries: Right. Now last time we spoke, we spoke about the new policy document of Hamas in which Hamas has distanced itself somewhat from Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is an international organization which was in many ways financed and cultivated by Qatar I understand. So is a new policy document of Hamas also a step away from Qatar, in a sense?

Dr. Alsoos: I don't think that the new document has to do with Qatar because I think it has to do more with Egypt. As an observer of Hamas discourse and I made a close reading for the document. It could make Hamas closer to Egypt. But it has nothing to do with Qatar. Because the Muslim Brotherhood, they nationalized their discourse in their countries. And this is not against Qatar's policy.

Sharmini Peries: All right. Now this of course raises the question of the legitimacy of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. What is their standing with the population of Gaza?

Dr. Alsoos: I think the standing of Hamas, especially in the last few weeks and the shortage of electricity and water and other basic goods, of course Hamas popularity is weakened. But in this regard I think the Palestinians are divided. One part is saying, "Oh it's the responsibility of Hamas to provide people with the basic goods. And if it cannot be able to do this, it can step away and bring Fatah which has a bitter relations with Egypt and the international community." And there is another part of the Palestinians with the opinion that, "Yes, Hamas is in control of Gaza. But Hamas is not the reason for the shortage of electricity. It is the blockade imposed by the Israeli occupation." And Hamas still has legitimacy in Gaza because when it came to Gaza, it came to office in Palestine and in Gaza, of course. It came by through democratic elections. And these countries that imposed the blockade on Gaza because they failed to defeat Hamas militarily in 2007, then they chose to make economic blockade in order to conquer the Palestinian to report against Hamas and unseat it. And this is what's going on, I think.

Sharmini Peries: Right. And what is the expectation of Palestinians and of course people in Gaza in terms of their leadership? I mean here we have a leadership crisis between Hamas and Fatah. And this might really blow up over the next few months if this kind of policy in the region involving Qatar really gets underway and gets escalated. What is the expectation on the part of Palestinians in terms of Hamas and Fatah and potential reconciliation between them in order to manage this crisis?

Dr. Alsoos: According to a survey published this month by the Palestinians Survey Center in Ramallah, that 64% of the Palestinians are not happy of their leadership, basically Hamas and Fatah. But ironically when they were asked which party will it choose, then about 70% said Hamas or Fatah. Because they are established organization. I think the people, the disappointment came from no reconciliation agreement to solve their problems. But they don't have an existential problem for Hamas or Fatah as parties. But as divided leadership, this is the problem.

Sharmini Peries: All right. Dr. Alsoos, I thank you so much for joining us today and shedding some light on what is happening in the Gaza Strip as well as Palestine in relation to what's happening in Qatar. I thank you so much.

Dr. Alsoos: Thank you so much for having me.

Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.


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