For years، Egypt has sought to improve relations between both parties operating in the Palestinian territories. Now it seems like something has actually changed – but what will Qatar do next?
Hamas’ announcement last week that it would be willing to hold talks with the rival Fatah was unexpected but not surprising. For weeks now، Palestinian political commentators have judged that Hamas’ position in Gaza would become increasingly precarious as Qatar، the group’s principal benefactor، began to feel the political and economic pressures of the Anti-Terror Quartet’s sanctions.
The rapprochement is certainly welcome – an end to the violent، decade-long feud between both Palestinian parties may well bring fresh impetus to the conflict resolution efforts with Israel. Yet the timing is significant: the cessation of Qatar’s financial and military aid to Hamas comes at a moment when Islamist extremist rebels in the region appear to be in retreat.
Hardline Islamist militias are collapsing in Syria and only last month the Iraqi army reclaimed Tal Afar، the former Isis stronghold، having defeated Isis forces in Mosul in July. It is no coincidence that these gains have increased as the longer sanctions against Qatar have continued. This is perhaps the first major policy success of the boycott: it has forced Qatar to rein in its pragmatic support for extremist groups as the world’s spotlight is fixed on Doha.
The political implications of the Hamas-Fatah rapprochement extend beyond Gaza. For years، Egypt has sought to improve relations between both parties following the split in summer 2007. Yet efforts at reconciliation foundered repeatedly on the rock of Hamas’ intransigence and were intensified further by orders from Doha.
In this respect، Egypt’s role in progressing the rapprochement through brokering talks between Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan، the exiled former Fatah leader currently residing in the UAE، is instructive.
The recent decline in Qatar’s regional influence is likely to curtail the Muslim Brotherhood’s operations significantly، leaving Egypt free to play a more active role in the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
Nonetheless، the GCC’s sanctions on Qatar severely weakened Hamas’ strongest supporters and put the group under significant pressure in Gaza. Faced with growing unpopularity due to Fatah’s cuts to Gaza’s electricity supply in a climate of Fatah-imposed salary cuts on Gaza government employees and high levels of unemployment، Hamas had little choice but to reconcile with Fatah.
Under these circumstances، the question remains: what will Qatar do next? If it has no intention of taking steps to reverse its diplomatic isolation، it may decide to re-engage with these extremist groups the moment the spotlight moves elsewhere. That would be a dangerous outcome that must be avoided at all costs.