It is still not clear how difficult the Gulf crisis will be now that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have started their boycott of Qatar, but it is clear that developments are unprecedented, rolling and open to all scenarios. It is also clear that Hamas and the Palestinian cause are at the heart of the storm.
All of the justifications presented by these countries for their move, and the media escalation that preceded them, do not measure up to be the real motives and reasons for the dramatic developments. Most of them range between allegations, claims and exaggeration, with some other regular issues that are not supposed to be such a big deal.
The events preceding or coinciding with the crisis suggest the real reasons behind it. This is especially so with regard to Trump’s visit to the region and the declaration of the “Middle East Alliance” to confront terrorism and extremism; the establishment of the “moderate” centre; and the research and media campaign in the US against Qatar in particular, which went on to include Turkey.
The most logical reasons pop up in the UAE’s competition with Qatar; the anger at Doha’s foreign policies, particularly with regards to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood; Saudi Arabia’s succession issue; and the talk about “deal of the century” whose details are still vague.
As for the language used in the announcements of Arab states boycotting Qatar, which appear to be closer to declarations of war than political statements, it tells us that the story is short; the disreputable axis of Arab moderation is rearranging its cards, portfolios and priorities with all folly. So, where do Hamas and the Palestinian cause stand in this unprecedented storm and what awaits them?
Palestinians still remember the pain of the repercussions of the Second Gulf War as an Arab-Arab conflict for which the entire Arab world paid the price, and still does. The Palestinian cause had its share in a path that began in Madrid and continued in Oslo and has not ended yet, but it seems that the repercussions for Hamas, Gaza and the Palestinian issue today are more critical and dangerous.
In the light of the recent crisis and the previous developments, there are several challenges facing Hamas in particular and the Palestinian resistance in general, and inevitably the Palestinian issue in the coming period.
First up is the worsening of financial distress affecting Hamas due to the crises in the region as well as internationally-imposed restrictions. The centre of “moderation” will focus on following up what will be considered “extremism” and not just those organisations listed as “terrorist entities”, according to the US and Trump definition as announced at the summit in Riyadh. Hamas is designated as a “terrorist” group and will thus face further restrictions, especially from the Gulf States. Of course, it is no secret that the continuation of the financial crisis will mean yet more deterioration in the living conditions in the Gaza Strip, which is something that several parties will seek to exploit to turn things against Hamas in the besieged territory.
What’s more, a new Israeli offensive against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will be more likely than ever as the winds of the Arab revolutions weaken; the Arab axis of moderation continues with its policies; counter-revolutions develop; and as long as there is both tacit and open approval by some Palestinian factions and individuals. Not only that, but also because the Arab world will be too busy with the Gulf-Gulf crisis, and Arab regimes are crumbling, which means that even the minimum level of verbal and political denunciation and condemnation of Israel and its occupation won’t be available.
In addition, we will see the activation of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”, with Al-Sisi and others “solving” the Palestinian issue — for which read “liquidating” it — by proposing a weak political solution accepted by some Palestinians. Its opponents won’t find any regional or international support to stop it, not least because all we know about this deal is its title, while its goals, timetable, gains and losses are not clear at all.
Furthermore, we are seeing the potential loss of the regional incubator in Qatar and Turkey, which are two countries with a known policy of supporting Hamas, the resistance against the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian cause. Although their role is limited to the media, politics and aid, they are being required to curtail and stop it. This will mean the possible repositioning of some Hamas leaders currently in exile in Doha until and unless the crisis passes. Hamas’s ability to withstand united Gulf pressure, with implicit US backing, is weak, and so all it can do is bend with the wind and let the storm pass, if possible.
The problem with this, of course, is its complexity. The exiles whom Qatar may not be able to host during the crisis may not be able to be hosted by Turkey either. This means greater fragmentation for the new Hamas leadership and more challenges in the new countries in which they find refuge, including political and security issues.
Finally, there is a threat to the future of the movement and its political programme and rhetoric; it’s a long-term challenge with the least likelihood, but it remains a possibility. Trump’s speech, the Riyadh summit and then all of the current developments came after the announcement of a new “flexible” policy by Hamas. This means that the plan is to use more of the stick and not the carrot against the movement, placing further restrictions on it financially, politically, militarily and geographically. It is expected that this will be used to push for even more “flexibility” to be demanded from Hamas, which has to be aware of this.
What options, therefore, does Hamas have? I think that they are limited. Naturally, the movement has to deal with the crisis. This requires trying to ease the pressure on its Qatari friends while searching for interim and long-term solutions. This might include concentrating the leadership in the Gaza Strip, or turning toward Tehran once again.
However, rapprochement with Iran is not necessarily a wise option to take and cannot be a solution to the problem. It would have the effect of increasing restrictions on the movement, clearly categorising it regionally and internationally according to circumstance that have no guaranteed repercussions or consequences. In addition, Tehran no longer has the same desire to resume its relations with, and support, for Hamas.
This is bigger than a Gulf-Gulf crisis; its causes are more complex and its consequences are more dangerous than can be covered in a brief article. The only constant is that this snowball has started its descent and it is hard to stop; it will be difficult if not impossible to restore relations and conditions without significant concessions, or profound transformations, both of which are very damaging to the Palestinian cause. It is ironic that this should now be suffering from a degree of Arab unity and a crack that has appeared in the apparently once-unified Arab edifice.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.