- Hamas spokesman says group hasn’t been asked to leave Qatar
- Qatar says Hamas’ presence is part of effort to mediate between the Palestinian factions
“Qatar is quite important for Hamas,” said H.A. Hellyer, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Qatar provides strong financial aid to the occupied Palestinian territories and is a safe haven for a number of Hamas leaders.”
The announcement was the culmination of a feud that had been simmering for years. The nine countries accused Doha of assisting terrorist organizations, providing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and of being far too cozy with Iran.
Ironically perhaps, Qatar’s relationship with Hamas had not been among the biggest issues dividing the region.
Unlike the US, Britain, and Europe, all of which designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, Arab states — including Qatar — do not. This was something Qatar’s Foreign Minister sought to remind people in an interview with Russia’s RT, in response to a call from his Saudi counterpart that Qatar stop supporting Hamas.
“The US views Hamas as a terror organization. But to the rest of the Arab nations, it is a legitimate resistance movement. We do not support Hamas, we support the Palestinian people,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said.
“Hamas’ presence [in Doha] is coordinated with the US and the countries in the region, and it’s part of our effort to mediate between the Palestinian factions to reach reconciliation.”
For its part, Hamas says it is being squeezed unreasonably.
“The Gulf Countries are pressuring Qatar to cut relations with resistance organizations. This is unacceptable and we refuse this pressure,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoom said in a statement to CNN. “We are a resistance movement and the whole world is a witness to this.”
Hamas is seen as having been under a series of pressures for the last few years, reflected in some significant internal changes.
While Israel pointed to the fact the new document continued to espouse violent resistance, and a commitment to the “rejection of the Zionist entity,” others observers said the document’s description of a Palestinian state with the borders existing on the eve of the Six Day War in 1967 provided evidence of a new moderation.
As Hamas rank and file were digesting those changes, so the leadership was suddenly forced to pay careful attention to diplomatic developments. Hellyer sees two main reasons the nine regional allies are turning their attention towards Hamas.
“First, Hamas has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood organization, which puts it in the firing line of Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia,” Hellyer says. “But I think this has more to do with a western audience. The Saudi rulers took advantage of Trump’s recognition of them as a powerful actor in the region and that might have encouraged them.”
Al Jazeera: ‘Thorn’
Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, has been a thorn in the side of regional autocrats for years. Qatar’s regional influence also comes from support for Islamists, whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas at one end of the spectrum, or Al Qaeda at the other.
Doha has used this sway to negotiate with various groups including the Taliban, as well as to help negotiate ceasefires between Israel and Hamas.
In late 2010 and into 2011, Qatar saw its influence throughout the Middle East rise sharply. Al Jazeera, already a thorn in the side of Arab autocrats, reported extensively on the Arab Spring.
The Al Jazeera Arabic channel grew additional roots in Egypt after the uprising and election of Mohamed Morsy who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood. The international community praised the new Egyptian president for bringing a swift end to a war between Gaza militants and Israel that same year.
In the long run, though, as it unraveled across the region, the Arab Spring proved to be disastrous for Hamas, which saw the number of countries it could call a friend whittled away.
“Hamas had very strong relations with Syria, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and Iran,” says Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian politician. “Things have changed over time so they had to diversify relations.”