🔒Israel and Qatar: Unintended allies in the Hamas quagmire – Marc Champion

In the complex dynamics of the Gaza conflict, Israel and Qatar, pivotal players in military action and diplomacy, ironically contributed to the growth of Hamas. Despite recent actions, such as Israel’s pursuit to eradicate Hamas and Qatar’s mediation efforts, their historical support hinders a lasting solution. Qatar’s financial aid and sanctuary for Hamas leaders sustain the group, impeding the prospect of a two-state solution. The need for major Arab nations to collaboratively suppress Hamas, facilitate Gaza’s transition, and engage in committed two-state negotiations becomes imperative for a stable resolution.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

Can the Governments That Grew Hamas Destroy It?: Marc Champion

By Marc Champion

(Bloomberg Opinion) —

It is a great irony of the war in Gaza that the two governments most responsible for navigating the response to Hamas — Israel’s, for military action, and Qatar’s, for diplomacy — also facilitated its growth. That isn’t just a piece of trivia, but an impediment to any lasting solution because it’s hard to see either making the policy reversals required.


This may sound harsh, given that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of more than 1200 people, sworn to eradicate the group as a political and military force and is currently pulverizing Gaza in pursuit of that goal. Qatar, for its part, proved an indispensable mediator in securing the recent pause in hostilities and release of more than 100 Israeli hostages, as well as three times that number of Palestinian prisoners. Yet neither of those actions can deliver stability.

Qatar’s usefulness does nothing to lessen the results of more than a decade and a half’s financial and political support for Hamas. The tiny Gulf state can’t be allowed to maintain its janus-like role beyond the last hostage release. 

This is a war in which Hamas, designated as a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, need only survive to win, and Qatar’s support is aimed precisely at its survival. In addition to a safe bolt hole and money, it has offered Hamas leaders legitimacy and a platform from which to promote the cause of Israel’s destruction. Just expelling the group’s so-called politburo from Qatar isn’t the answer; having them return to Syria, or move to Iran would be no improvement. They either must be incarcerated or extradited for trial elsewhere. At a minimum, they need to be muzzled and isolated. Hamas at this point can only be an obstacle to the two-state divorce between Israelis and Palestinians that remains the sole plausible way to end the Holy Land’s cycle of bloodshed and repression.

Netanyahu’s various governments since 2009 also enabled Hamas, not least by methodically weakening and humiliating the group’s more moderate political rival, the Palestinian Authority, so there would be no credible partner for talks on creating a Palestinian state. They facilitated Qatar’s official, $30 million monthly bank transfers to Gaza, while millions more arrived surreptitiously in cash, carried over the border in suitcases. Netanyahu today strenuously denies any such strategy. Yet according to quotes leaked to the Jerusalem Post from a 2019 closed meeting of his Likud party parliamentary faction, he told legislators that “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” the Qatari transfers, because the money helped to keep Gaza and the West Bank separated.

Qatari officials say the funds were internationally monitored and ringfenced for Hamas to pay for fuel, public-sector salaries and welfare subsidies. All were desperately needed while Gaza was under the economic blockade that Israel and Egypt imposed in 2007, after Hamas seized control in a violent coup, having won local parliamentary elections the year before. Yet that money — more than $1.1 billion in total between 2012 and 2018 — also allowed Hamas to retain power, freed it from financial dependence on the Palestinian Authority, and freed other funds to build an estimated 500 kilometers of defense tunnels, an army and an arsenal of missiles with which to attack Israel.

Willingness to compromise among Jewish Israelis and Palestinians is at a nadir. An Oct. 31–Nov. 7 poll of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank found that 75% supported Hamas’ spectacularly brutal Oct. 7 attack. So it’s easy to conclude that promoting coexistence is at this point naive. Yet if there was one bright spot in the poll by the West Bank-based Arab World for Research & Development, it was that Palestinians would choose a government of national unity, rather than Hamas to rule Gaza when the fighting ends, by a whopping 75% to 14%. Meanwhile, the alternatives to coexistence – a single Israeli or Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” – would involve the ethnic cleansing of one population or the other, if not genocide, and the near certainty of regional escalation. That simply can’t be entertained.

What is needed is for the major Arab nations, Qatar and Israel (encouraged by the US and others) to agree on a path out of this quagmire. That’s best done behind closed doors and should include the suppression of Hamas, provision of a transition force to run and rebuild Gaza until power can be handed to a new Palestinian government, committed negotiations for a two-state solution, and an end to Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank by settlement. The basis for that kind of agreement is being eroded by every civilian the Israel Defense Forces kill in Gaza, as Hamas knew it would and Netanyahu appears willing to accept, even as United Nations pressure to end the war grows.

Israel’s longest-serving prime minister now faces a revived trial for fraud and bribery, suspended after Oct. 7, allegations he denies. While his generals pursue a military solution, Netanyahu has been unable to fit that into a strategy for eliminating not just Hamas commanders and fighters, but also its support among Palestinians, because he can’t; the extremist parties on which he relies for his political survival — and perhaps also personal freedom — would not permit the compromises required.

At the same time, Qatar continues to argue that Hamas is not a terrorist organization and needs to be bargained with rather than ostracized. It’s difficult to envisage any stable solution to the crisis emerging so long as Netanyahu’s ultra-right coalition runs Israel and Qatar goes on providing safe harbor to Hamas.

Read also:

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.