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Will Qatari Emir’s Visit Drive Hamas, Fatah Apart?

Is Palestinian power shifting from Fatah to Hamas?

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the ruling emir of Qatar visited Gaza on Tuesday and pledged $400 million in aid projects. But more importantly than any aid, the Emir indirectly pledged his support for Hamas by even making the trip in the first place; it marks the first time a Head of State has visited Gaza in the five years since Hamas wrestled control of the territory away from rival Fatah.

Sheikh Hamad’s trip is yet another indication that Hamas and Fatah are far from achieving Palestinian unity. As Via Meadia noted earlier this year, Fatah has struggled for decades to build Palestinian statehood, and Hamas took advantage of this lack of progress in its 2007 rise to power in Gaza.

This is good news for Hamas, and bad news for Fatah. The one advantage that the struggling Fatah has historically enjoyed over Hamas is that Western countries and donors have been more willing to deal with it rather than the more militaristic Hamas. Over the past year, Fatah has lost some of that advantage, and the emir’s trip will further undermine it, particularly if Western countries see “moderate” Qatar’s interest in Gaza as a sign of a more moderate Hamas. Haaretz has the story:

“Qatar now is directly involving itself in the Palestinian issue. It is certainly a bold step that goes beyond what any other country in the region would have done on its own,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh of London-based consultancy Cornerstone Global.

“Qatar is acting as a go-between between the West and Hamas. Though both the West and Hamas prefer not to admit this, both in fact are eager for someone to assume such a role. Only Qatar is able to do so given its regional status, and it’s doing it through economic diplomacy.”

The emir, who has sought to play the role of mediator and peacemaker between Fatah and Hamas in the past, has said that his trip is ostensibly about building cooperation and unity between the two arch-rivals. However, it remains to be seen whether his presence in Gaza, and the extra international legitimacy his trip lends to Hamas, will drive the two Palestinian factions further apart.

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