Qatari emir comes to Gaza bearing gifts – maybe with some strings attached
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani's visit, pegged to the delivery of a hefty aid package, is the latest iteration of Qatar's efforts to expand its political influence in the region.
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Latin America Editor
Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.
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The emir of Qatar traveled to Gaza today, becoming the first head of state from any nation to visit the territory since the Islamist group Hamas took power five years ago. The emir is bringing significant offers of aid, furthering the small oil-rich nation's efforts to gain influence around the region.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani's visit is pinned to the launch of an aid package earmarked for $254 million to fund reconstruction projects in Gaza – "symbolic" relief for a territory that has been economically and politically isolated by the West and Israel since Hamas took over in 2007. Reuters noted upon the emir's arrival that the original amount was increased to $400 million.
During the emir's four-hour visit, he will inaugurate several projects, among them a housing project, hospital, and renovation of Gaza's major north-south highway, Salaha-Din Road.
This is the "latest example of Qatar’s use of its oil and gas riches and ties to Islamist organizations to expand its regional influence," reports The Wall Street Journal. It has played an active role in the regional uprisings, leading regional efforts to isolate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – it was one of the first countries to close its embassy there – and overthrow former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party presides over the government in the West Bank, said he welcomed Qatar’s aid package, but stressed that he is the official, internationally recognized leader of the Palestinian people, according to The Associated Press.
The two Palestinian territories have been politically divided since the Hamas takeover, and reconciliation efforts have failed repeatedly. Some Palestinians expressed reservations about the emir’s visit and Qatar’s role, fearing that Mr. Thani's visit could deepen the split, The Wall Street Journal reports.
But many Palestinians have expressed uneasiness about Qatar's role, describing it as aggravating their domestic political feud by favoring Hamas over the secular Fatah Party, which runs the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Fatah representatives couldn't be reached on Monday, but the party's Facebook page contained a photograph of the emir with a red line through his face and a caption reading "You are unwelcome. Gaza is not for sale."
"It's political money. It's not innocent money," said Omar Shaban, director of the Gaza economic think tank Pal-Think for Strategic Studies. "Some people think that it will damage reconciliation. It will encourage Hamas and embolden Hamas'' not to compromise with Fatah.