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A year after the war that devastated the Gaza Strip, Israel is apparently helping Qatar — which does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel — partner with the Islamist movement and longstanding enemy Hamas to rebuild the the territory.
“Life is full of contradictions and strange things,” Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research for Israel’s military intelligence, told NPR when commenting on Israel’s recent move to allow Qatar to channel its reconstruction aid through Hamas, which is a US-designated terrorist group.
Israel has always tried to isolate Hamas and has accused Qatar of financing the Islamist movement. Hamas does not recognise Israel’s right to exist, rejects all agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and calls for Israel’s violent destruction in its founding charter.
But now Israel is letting a Qatari official channel millions of dollars to help the Palestinian faction rebuild the Gaza Strip, which was heavily damaged during last summer’s war with Israel.
Kuperwasser told NPR that letting Qatar help Hamas will be beneficial for Israel in the long run. “We believe that better conditions in Gaza would lessen the incentive of Hamas and the population to go again to a war, so in a way, it is helping the deterrence,” he said.
He also mentioned that Qatar was the only country willing to help — despite a pledge of over $US5 billion in aid for rebuilding the Strip in 2014 after the war.
Qatar alone has pledged $US1 billion, the US pledged $US212 million, the European Union $US568 million and the United Arab Emirates and Turkey both committed $US200 million. But of February 2015, only about 5% of what had been promised reached Gaza, according to humanitarian news service IRIN.
Mohammad al-Emadi, a Qatari official, has been travelling between Israel and Gaza to discuss reconstruction projects in Gaza, NPR reported. Qatar does not recognise Israel and the countries have no diplomatic relations.
Nevertheless, al-Emadi met with the Israeli brigadier general in charge of letting goods and people through the country’s various crossings with Gaza, according to NPR.
Emadi said that Qatar was there to help Palestinians and not specifically Hamas — but that there was no way to achieve that goal in the Strip without Hamas’s help. “You have to support them. You don’t like them … But they control the country, you know,” Emadi said during a visit to Gaza, according to NPR.
Last summer’s war killed 2100 people in Gaza and destroyed about 17,000 homes. Emadi said Qatar’s current projects in Gaza could take another three or four years to complete.
A Hamas spokesperson said Israel is letting Qatar help out in the Strip only to “deflect criticism over the war destruction and the continued restrictions on materials going into Gaza.”
Israel’s blockade on Gaza, which has been in place since 2006 after Hamas’s takeover of the coastal Strip, restricts the flow of materials entering the territory from Israel and closes off all sea-based trade and air traffic. The aid agency Oxfam said in February 2015 that if the blockade wasn’t lifted, the “rebuilding of homes, schools and hospitals in Gaza could take more than a century to complete” after the war.
Frode Mauring, the former UN Development Programme special representative for Gaza and the West Bank, said that the longer it would take for life to get back to normal, the closer the Strip would get to a fresh escalation. “The situation again will move towards a negative scenario, because the people feel as if they have nothing to lose, and they will act accordingly,” he told Al Jazeera in February 2015.
Israel claims that is specifically what it wants to avoid in letting Qatar take responsibility for certian reconstruction projects.
But there are other reasons why Israel is suddenly more open to cooperation with Qatar. Israel’s deputy minister for regional cooperation, Ayub Carra, mentioned that Qatar, along with other Gulf countries, shares Israel’s concerns about Iran, NPR reported. Kuperwasser also mentioned that Israel has long wanted improved relations with the region’s Sunni Muslim countries because of the threat the country faces from Shi’ite Iran and its various militant proxies.
“So we have a chance, now, to make the relationship better,” said Carra.
Not everyone in Israel agrees with this sudden surge in cooperation. Eli Avidar, who used to run an Israeli trade office in Qatar, told NPR that after last summer’s war, international pressure on Qatar grew to stop financing Hamas’ armed wing. He thinks that Israel’s new policy now undermined the international pressure.
For 13 years Israel had a trade bureau in Qatar before the emirate ordered its closure in 2009 following Israel’s offensive in Gaza in late 2008, an escalation that left over 1,200 Palestinians dead.