Qatar's Gaza policy and Egypt

Qatar's Gaza policy and Egypt

From Qatari state television al-Jazeera's coverage:

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, is set to arrive in the Gaza Strip to inaugurate a $254-million Qatari investment project to rebuild the impoverished and overcrowded coastal enclave.

The leader of the Gulf nation will be the first head of state to visit Gaza since the imposition of a widespread international boycott of the Palestinian territory.

"This visit has great political significance," said Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu.

"He is the first Arab leader to break the political siege."

The investment project seeks to build 1,000 homes for poor families in the devastated Khan Younis area in the south of the Strip.

The 41km-long Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million people, sustained major damage during a huge 22-day Israeli military operation in December 2008 and January 2009.

Khan Younis has been particularly hard hit during the international blockade of Gaza, imposed since 2007, and during the half-decade before that. A 2011 EWASH report revealed that 90-95 per cent of Gaza's water is safe to drink.

In a phone conversation on the eve of the visit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the emir's intentions to help the people of Gaza, under an Israeli-led blockade since the Hamas takeover.

A late night statement from the office of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi said his country welcomed the emir's visit to Gaza, which it said were part of Egypt's effort "to break the siege on the people" of the territory.

The Qatari emir's visit to Gaza is indeed a massive boon to the Hamas regime there, and not just financially. They have wanted, and the international community has denied them, the kind of formal recognition this visits grants for years. And it will really sting Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, whatever nice words they have to say about it, because the erosion of the idea that the PA is the sole representative of the Palestinian people is the single most damaging thing for them.

The Qatari emir can't go to Gaza through Israel, and thus must make his way via the Rafah crossing and Egypt. This must be a difficult thing for Egypt to swallow: Qatar, which is lending $2bn this calendar year alone to support the Egyptian pound, is doing more politically and financially for Gaza than Muslim Brotherhood Egypt has. Egyptians have long fumed about "little Qatar's" over-active foreign policy and its meddling in Gaza, an Egyptian near-abroad. I suspect the Muslim Brotherhood, whatever its initial euphoria and dreams of reconquering historical Palestine, will have similar reservations about the Qatari visit. They have, in the past few months, been slowly adjusting to the reality that the Gaza-Egypt-Israel relationship is a complex one and no dramatic change in policy — such as opening the border to commercial traffic and effectively ending the Gaza blockade —  has yet come. More than that, officially Egypt still sticks to the protocol of considering Mahmoud Abbas as the representative of Palestinians and Gaza as under theoretical PA authority (or that the end state of Palestinian reconciliation should be a West Bank and Gaza united under PA control). Qatar's visit undermines this — at a time when Morsi is under pressure from his own over his Israel policy.