Qatar Funds Development Projects in Gaza

Qatar recently began the second stage of development projects, including housing and healthcare, in the Gaza Strip. The country has also resolved to fix the electricity and power crisis in Gaza by paying the Palestinian Authority (PA) for taxes and fuel and through the construction of both a power line and gas pipeline. However, the Qatari ambassador to Palestine, Muhammad al-Amadi, has sparked tension between the groups by stating that the PA is hindering completion of the project. In 2014, after Hamas launched rockets into Israel following sporadic violence and tensions, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, in which Israel Defense Forces destroyed underground tunnels used by militants and attacked above-ground targets. The result left Gaza with a large population of displaced persons and with 25 percent of its housing demolished. Much of Qatar’s current assistance seeks to alleviate the damage from this conflict.

Ismail Haniyeh, a political figure affiliated with Hamas, opened a new Qatar-funded neighborhood in Khan Yunis on February 11 with 1,060 homes. The second neighborhood opened after the resolution of the 2014 conflict. Qatar has set aside large additional sums of money for the projects in Gaza—it has dedicated $30 million for electricity infrastructure, $12 million for fuel, $21 million for a hospital, and about $80 million for various other reconstruction efforts.

Qatar has long been a mediator between the Israeli and Palestinian governments and between Israel and Hamas and has informally negotiated prisoner-swaps and electricity blueprints. Qatar’s development projects in Palestine bolster its position as an intermediary by providing both jobs to Palestinians and money to Israeli corporations that sell the raw materials necessary for construction. Al-Amadi’s recent comments emphasize his attempts at neutrality, admitting that Israel cooperates with the development projects—at times even more so than the PA and that he maintains excellent ties with Israeli authorities.

Increased aid flowing into Palestine, especially Gaza, with tacit Israeli tolerance, demonstrates Qatar’s efforts to become an important regional player. Israel hasn’t denounced Qatar’s aid projects, which require the support of Hamas, the governing party in Gaza, despite constant skirmishes between Hamas and the Israelis. Not only would allowing Qatar to finance Gaza undermine Iran’s influence, a major concern for Israel, but it would lessen international criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Consequently, by funneling its oil wealth into explicit humanitarian and implicit political programs, Qatar appears diplomatic and prominent in Middle Eastern politics.

These recent developments between Qatar, Israel, and Palestine mirror a trend between Gulf states and the Levant region. As the Gulf states express frustration with corruption in the PA, they expand informal relations with Israel. Although Qatar had cut off complete diplomatic and trade relations with Israel in the 2008-2009 Israeli-Gaza War, in recent years, both countries have expanded mutual economic cooperation. The Qatari government hopes that purchasing high-tech equipment could convince educated citizens to remain in the country. Other Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have collaborated in the defense and intelligence fields, especially as both regions increasingly view Iran as a larger threat. Since Iran supports Hamas, the Gulf states, including Qatar, are compromising their past steadfast opposition to Israel and support of the Palestinians and moving toward much more negotiable positions.

Qatar’s diplomatic balancing-act often sparks controversy in both Western and Arab countries. Qatar has often granted asylum to exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization whose populist presence threatens the Gulf monarchies. This position led Gulf states to pull their ambassadors from Qatar in 2014. Furthermore, the United States has admonished Qatar’s financing of Islamist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front in Syria, and for supporting terrorism. Qatar’s regional spread stirs suspicion just as it garners allies.

Destroyed home in Gaza. Source: Wikimedia Commons