The Hamas government in Gaza has been isolated from mainstream Arab politics since it seized power in Gaza in 2007 and split from Fatah which was left running the West Bank. The expected visit to Gaza by the Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, is an opportunity to restart the process of reconciliation with Fatah, and should not be treated by Hamas as an endorsement of its isolation.
The visit indicates a political shift by Hamas away from its good relations with Iran back to more traditional close ties with Arab states. Hamas is an Islamist organisation which did well in previous Palestinian elections, but was not allowed to take office, as the US and other western countries list it as a terrorist organisation. After Hamas grabbed power in Gaza the Palestinian government split into two, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah managing the West Bank. This led to Hamas being ignored by much of the Arab world, but now Hamas has been much encouraged by the election of Mohammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.
The official purpose of Shaikh Hamad’s visit is to inaugurate a variety of reconstruction projects funded by Qatar, worth over $250 million, but he will be well aware that the first visit to Gaza of an Arab head of state since 2007 has substantial symbolic presence. It is important that Shaikh Hamad takes the opportunity to urge the Hamas leaders to seek the promised reconciliation with Fatah, so that the Palestinians can once again have a single and unified government with which they will be able to face the Israeli aggression more confidently.
It is also important that Fatah works to implement reconciliation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has officially welcomed Shaikh Hamad’s visit to Gaza, but he should also take the opportunity to stress on restarting the reconciliation process so that Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza can once again re-unite under one government.