Cairo and Doha jockey for roles in Palestinian reconciliation after summit

Sheikh Tamim received Ismail Haniyeh to discuss new rules while Egypt sees itself as the centre of gravity on Palestinian issue.
Monday 11/01/2021
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, receives  the head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh.  (www.diwan.gov.qa)
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, receives the head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh. (www.diwan.gov.qa)

Cairo – Egypt is testing Qatari intentions with regard to Muslim Brotherhood-linked organisations after signing the Gulf reconciliation declaration at the Al-Ula summit in Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian diplomatic sources told The Arab Weekly that Cairo is carefully monitoring Qatar's role as it seeks to invest in rapprochement between the Palestinian Fatah movement and Hamas.

Egypt, however, asserts that Cairo -- and not Doha -- is the regional centre of gravity on the Palestinian issue.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani received the head of Hamas's political burea, Ismail Haniyeh, on Sunday. Their meeting had a different political significance after the Gulf reconciliation.

The Al-Ula agreement has imposed unspoken obligations on Qatar, the most important of which is that it stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood organisations, of which Hamas is part.

Haniyeh's visit to Doha is the first since the militant Palestinian leader was cordially asked to leave Qatari soil about a year ago. He has since travelled to Turkey, Lebanon and Gaza but not stayed in Qatar, a declared partner of his movement that hosts a number of its leaders.

Egyptian diplomatic sources have expressed their concern that Doha could invest in the Palestinian reconciliation issue and take it away from Cairo, especially since the Fatah and Hamas movements have no qualms about involving Qatar.

With Gulf reconciliation, President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) can reach out to Qatar without fear of annoying Egypt, which he has close ties with.

No one would criticise the Palestinian Authority and Hamas -- which defers to Qatar on its positions -- if they demand that Doha participate in any upcoming mediation.

Cairo realises that the relationship between Doha and all Brotherhood branches in the region will not change easily. But Egypt wants to benefit from the results of the Al-Ula summit to know how Qatar plans to handle the file, which is of vital importance to Egypt and will be a true test of Qatar's commitment.

The meeting between the Qatari emir and Haniyeh in Doha on Sunday constituted a clear indication of their continued warm relationship.

Mohammad Masharqa, director of the Progress Center for Policies in London, said that Haniyeh tried during his meeting with Tamim to explore Qatar's future relationship with Hamas after Gulf reconciliation.

Masharqa told The Arab Weekly there could be a change in Qatar's functional role on many files, especially its relationship with Islamist groups.

This puts the Hamas in a new quandary, as it is on the one hand a branch of the international movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, which faces an unprecedented decline, but on the other hand wants to integrate the Palestinian political system in order to preserve its existence.

If the projections of a policy paper submitted to US President-elect Joe Biden and future Secretary of State Tony Blinken are accurate, then Egypt and Jordan will be entrusted with a decisive, fundamental role in the Biden administration's new approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, while other Arab and regional parties will be sidelined.

This means, Masharqa says, that Qatar's margin of manoeuvre on the Palestinian issue will greatly narrow.

Egyptian diplomatic sources, however, expect that Qatar will not give away the Hamas card even if it can temporarily shelve it. Hamas leaders are likely to understand Doha's stance as they rush to welcome Gulf reconciliation, react positively to the prospect of Palestinian elections and move to address the resumption of national dialogue in Cairo.

Palestinian factions are preparing to resume national reconciliation dialogue sessions in Cairo in the coming days to flesh out a collective framework  for elections, as agreed by Fatah and Hamas, and to set up a political safety net for the National Authority under the leadership of Abbas when the time comes to resume negotiations with Israel, under regional and international sponsorship.

On Monday, Egypt will host a quadripartite meeting that includes Jordan, Germany and France to push the peace process forward. Cairo finds that the consensus to hold elections offers a propitious environment to convince the international community that real change has taken place in the Palestinian landscape and to draw its forces to Cairo's preferred negotiating venue.

On Saturday, Abbas discussed in Ramallah dates for legislative and presidential elections and the National Council with the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Hanna Nasir, who presented a tentative calendar with specific dates.

Abbas's meeting with the elections committee symbolically coincided with the sixteenth anniversary of his election as president of the Palestinian Authority.

Another meeting is to be held in around a week with the election commission. Abbas will issue the decrees to hold elections no later than January 20, followed by the start of a national dialogue between Palestinian factions in Cairo.

Fayez Abu Atia, a member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah Movement, told The Arab Weekly that the announcement of the election decrees came after serious dialogue between Fatah and Hamas and a number of Palestinian factions and have drawn optimistic Egyptian sponsorship.

He pointed out that there is a general consensus that there is no reason for divisions to continue as the international community moves to settle the Palestinian issue and Abbas senses that holding elections is the the quickest way to achieve reconciliation.