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Qatar’s continued assistance to Gaza Strip in question

Despite press reports to the contrary, Qatar has not informed Hamas that Doha might not renew humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip beginning in January, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor.

The Qatari assistance was part of truce agreements mediated by Egypt between Hamas and Israel. In October 2018, Qatar agreed to provide $150 million in emergency humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip in monthly payments of $25 million. Gaza received the first payment Nov. 8, 2018. The grant was initially for six months but was extended until the end of this year because of the dire conditions in the Gaza Strip.

On Nov. 5, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar reported that Qatar had officially informed Hamas of the grant’s uncertain status for next year. That report, citing undisclosed Hamas sources, circulated widely, but Qassem denied the account Nov. 17. Still, he stressed that Hamas has been and will continue reaching out to many regional and international parties — including Qatar — for financial aid.

If Qatar discontinues the funding, Palestinians’ conditions will worsen and no doubt lead to escalating unrest against Israel because of its 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“Our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip decided not to endure this unjust siege anymore and are seeking to break it by all possible means,” Qassem added.

According to a statement issued Oct. 17 by the Ministry of Social Development in the Gaza Strip, the unemployment rate and poverty indicators in Gaza are among the worst in the world.

Talal Awkal, a Palestinian political analyst, told Al-Monitor the grant might be renewed in accordance with new formulas and mechanisms imposed by the formation of the new Israeli government. “Grants are not provided to the Gaza Strip with the aim of raising economic and development indicators, but with the aim of avoiding an explosion and helping Gaza survive,” he added.

Regarding Hamas’ other options when it comes to securing funds for the Gaza Strip, Awkal said Hamas has knocked on all doors and only Qatar responded. There has been a radical change in relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which have put in place strict procedures for raising funds for the Gaza Strip and Hamas due to differences in ideology.

He pointed out that Qatar’s aid is politically motivated and not purely humanitarian. He added that concerns over a halt in the Qatari funds to Gaza were among the reasons Hamas did not engage in the latest round of escalation. That activity started after Israel assassinated Bahaa Abu Al-Ata, a commander for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, on Nov. 12.

Awkal said Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziad al-Nakhla alluded in a Nov. 13 interview on Al-Mayadeen TV that the Qatari funds, which enter Gaza through Ben Gurion Airport, are intended to tame the resistance, namely Hamas, and give it something to lose should it create problems.

Hussam al-Dajani, a political science professor at Al-Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the grant’s renewal depends on Qatar’s perception of the political and economic situation in the Gaza Strip. He stressed that Qatar will not abandon the Palestinian cause even if it decides not to renew the grant.

He doubts Qatar will continue to send money, given the UN’s failure to pressure Israel to implement terms of the truce agreement, such as easing the blockade on Gaza. Qatar also isn’t satisfied with Israel’s reliability in transferring funds: Israel blocks them at times and often sets its own conditions for their transfer. Qatar wants to send money, but doesn’t like giving Israel that leverage.

Qatar, Dajani said, believes the Gaza Strip would be wise not to rely solely on Qatari aid. “The Qatari funds do breathe new life into Gaza, but they don’t meet the aspirations of a population that wants the siege to be lifted,” he added.

Dajani pointed out that Qatar introduces aid to Gaza when it has the green light from the United States, so as not to be portrayed as a terrorist supporter. However, Qatar can stop the aid if it wants to.

Dajani said that when Hamas refused to engage in the latest escalation with Israel, it wasn’t because the movement was afraid of losing the Qatari grant, but because it believed engagement would lead to war and allow embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a strong government.

He stressed that the grant came in the wake of the truce understandings, under which Palestinians pledged to stop the violent tactics to which they resorted to during the great marches of return. In other words, Dajani continued, a halt in the funds would mean a return to violence, which would lead to escalation toward Israel.

These tactics include the night marches, tire burning and incendiary balloons sent into Israeli settlements.

Hassan Abdo, a political analyst with ties to Islamic Jihad, told Al-Monitor that if Qatar doesn’t renew the grant, an alternative will be needed because Gaza will be driven toward an explosion of violence, given the conditions there. This, he said, will destabilize not only Israel, but the whole region. He believes that Qatar would not distance itself from the Gaza Strip, including the projects it has implemented and the headquarters it is establishing for its delegation there.

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