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Terrorism & Security

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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But the United Arab Emirates' Gulf News writes in an editorial that the emir’s visit is an opportunity for mending ties.  

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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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It is important that Shaikh Hamad takes the opportunity to urge the Hamas leaders to seek the promised reconciliation with Fatah, so that the Palestinians can once again have a single and unified government with which they will be able to face the Israeli aggression more confidently.

It is also important that Fatah works to implement reconciliation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has officially welcomed Shaikh Hamad’s visit to Gaza, but he should also take the opportunity to stress on restarting the reconciliation process so that Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza can once again re-unite under one government.

Earlier this year Thani attempted to facilitate a reconciliation, hosting talks between Mr. Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, reports Voice of America. Those talks did not bring about a resolution, but they are indicative of Qatar’s emerging role as a mediator, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last spring.

Qatar offers a powerful combination of money, hotel space, and connections – and is largely devoid of historical baggage.

The government, which aims to increase its international stature, spends millions footing hotel bills for rebels. After agreements are signed, Qatar sweetens the deal with reconstruction and development aid. The Qatari emir and the foreign minister personally invest in building relationships with the various parties.

The talks have had mixed results. But for Qatar, playing host has raised its international profile, helped forge allies in the West, and won praise almost universally. Mediation is proving to be a powerful – and fail-safe – way to boost its brand.

Another Monitor report notes that Qatar's pivot from neutrality to a more activist agenda could result in future challenges for the country

“Qatar was long seen as the Switzerland of the Middle East – a small, neutral country friendly to everyone from Iran to the US Central Command, which it hosts,” the Monitor reports.

But according to Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen, a scholar of Gulf politics at the London School of Economics, "They're losing that [neutral] reputation…. They are playing a very political game, and it could come back to haunt them."

Thani's visit to Gaza riled Israel, which has led the effort to isolate Gaza, imposing strict controls on what can enter the territory.

"We find it weird that the emir doesn't support all of the Palestinians but sides with Hamas over the Palestinian Authority [in the West Bank], which he has never visited," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Telegraph. "The emir has chosen his camp and it is not good."

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