The Administrative Committee of the Gaza Strip announced last month that it was cutting its employees’ salaries by five per cent. This came as part of a package of austerity measures approved by the inner circles of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, which runs the besieged coastal territory.
Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza have never been paid more than 60 per cent of their salaries since they were fired by the Fatah-controlled PA in Ramallah following the victory of Hamas in the last free parliamentary election held in 2006, which the Islamic movement won. The PA led by Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Arab and international leaders, refused to accept the election result simply because Fatah didn’t win.
After an attempted coup against Hamas led by Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan and backed by the US and Israel, the PA left the Gaza Strip, told its employees to stay at home and fired those who refused to obey its orders. Hamas stepped in, recruited new staff and paid them partial salaries, alongside those who had been fired by the PA in Ramallah.
As part of the comprehensive siege of Gaza led by Israel and supported by Egypt and the international community in an effort to increase the suffering of the Palestinian people in the enclave, Israel bombed Gaza’s sole power plant. Both Israel and Egypt reduced the amount of electricity supplied to Gaza, causing most industries to cut back or close altogether.
In order to deal with this difficult situation, Hamas looked for financial support to pay Gaza’s public employees, as well as to pay for legitimate resistance action against Israel’s brutal military occupation. With a lot of popular support among the Palestinians, Hamas was eventually backed by most of the Palestinian factions, including those in the PLO such as the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine. This was good news for the resistance programme, but not good enough to pay salaries to the civil servants.
At this point, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran and, especially, Qatar — which persuaded Hamas to take part in the 2006 election — increased their support for the Islamic movement and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Qatar paid for the public employees, the power plant and other civil sectors that mitigated the effects of the Israel siege, but avoided any support for resistance against the Israeli occupation.
As the host of the Hamas political leadership, along with most acting Muslim Brotherhood leaders in exile, as well as hundreds of Sunni Muslim scholars, Qatar continued to promote Hamas leaders across the Arab and Islamic world. During the Israeli military offensive against Gaza in 2008/9, Qatar called for an emergency meeting of the Arab league to be held in Doha.
The Gulf state invited Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to attend the meeting. Although many Arab leaders were complicit in one way or another with the Israeli occupation, this was an unprecedented opportunity for Hamas, as its senior leader sat for the first time next to Arab and regional heads of state.
Qatar described the Israeli siege of Gaza as immoral and illegal, and announced that it would donate $250 million to repair the damage caused by Israel’s military offensives. It rebuilt homes and civil infrastructure and helping to pay civil servants in the enclave. It also suggested a reconciliation proposal to bring Hamas and its political rival Fatah together. Reconciliation talks were hosted in Doha on several occasions.
Such generosity led Israel to put indirect pressure on Qatar to stop its support for Hamas and the Gaza Strip. This reached its peak when a Saudi-led siege was imposed on Qatar in 2017 under the pretext that it supported Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
When asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about supporting Hamas, Qatar’s Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani said that his country supports all Palestinians, and Hamas is part of them. He added that he did not agree with many friends who consider Hamas to be a terrorist group. In fact, he said very clearly that Hamas is not a terrorist group.
During and following every Israeli offensive on Gaza, Qatar pledged to support and help rebuild the homes and other infrastructure damaged and destroyed by the occupation state. The small Gulf state even continued to send cash, causing problems for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for letting such financial support enter Gaza.
The good thing about Qatar’s support for Hamas has been that there has never been a political price to be paid in return. Maintaining calm in Gaza has been the major Qatari demand, and this has happened under pressure from the US and other countries.
However, the situation has changed. Qatar, it seems, has been upset with Gaza and Hamas ever since the movement revived its relations with the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Moreover, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, keeps praising Iran and its Shia leaders.
Perhaps there has also been pressure imposed on Qatar by the US and Saudi Arabia to reduce or even cut its support for Hamas and Gaza. During the past few years, apparently secret arrangements have been made for Israel to allow goods and fuel to enter Gaza from Egypt in order to restrict the flow of cash to the enclave. Something certainly seems to have happened, because Qatari cash has reduced considerably, and Egyptian goods entering Gaza have hiked.
In this way, Israel is able to ensure that no uncontrolled cash, which could be used for all sorts of unaccounted purposes, is entering Gaza. In doing so, it is tightening the noose around Hamas’s neck.
At the same time, the price of Egyptian goods rises and falls without any apparent reason, pushing the Palestinians in Gaza to think that whenever Israel feels that there is “too much” money in Gaza, it tells the Egyptians to increase their prices to squeeze money out of the Palestinians.
The current position is that Qatar has stopped paying $10m to Egypt for fuel for the Gaza power plant, and slashed the $100m paid for the salaries of civil servants down to just $3m, which means that they are not paid regularly, if at all. Funds for many projects have either been suspended or cut completely. The number of employees of the Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza has fallen considerably.
The situation in Gaza is going from bad to worse. It has been usual at such worrying times for Qatar to step in, but not this time. It is keeping quiet. According to some analysts, the government in Doha is being pressured by Israel, but I believe that the rumours that Qatar is angry with Hamas chief Al-Sinwar are more believable. Wherever the truth lies, it is the ordinary Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip who continue to suffer.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.