The recent Gaza conflict and the negotiations that eventually led to a cease-fire on Nov. 21 highlight some of the shifts currently taking place in the Middle East, particularly in Hamas’ relations with Qatar, Turkey and Egypt. These shifts represent a considerable challenge for the U.S. as it attempts to facilitate democratic transitions in the region while maintaining long-standing partnerships.
In early November, Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took over the territory in a short but violent 2007 civil war with its rival Fatah. But if al-Thani’s visit was a sign that Hamas’ isolation was decreasing, then the holding of four-way talks among Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Hamas as part of efforts to achieve a cease-fire with Israel was a flashing billboard.
Al-Thani’s visit before the fighting symbolized the emirate’s ambitious effort to raise its foreign policy profile. The tiny country’s strategic location in the Persian Gulf and considerable oil and gas resources have given it outsized weight in regional affairs. Consistently exploring new ways to exercise influence, including hosting a number of academic and policy research institutions, Qatar has endeavored, with considerable success, to become the primary sponsor of the region’s various Muslim Brotherhood groups, of which Hamas is one. Having served as a refuge for members of the Hamas leadership after it was pushed out of Jordan in the late-1990s, Qatar has again become a key patron after the group broke with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and decamped from Damascus over his crackdown on anti-government protests. Qatar has also received support from the U.S. for its ongoing efforts to help rebuild Gaza.