Hamas Denied Leaving Doha

“Hamas has denied media reports yesterday (Sunday) that Qatar has asked a number of its officials currently residing in Doha to leave due to American and possibly Israeli pressure

Abdel Bari Atwan

Hamas Spokesman Hassan Badran said that ‘the false allegations in some recent media reports regarding a list of Hamas leaders that Qatar has asked to leave its territories are contrary to the facts.’ And he pointed the finger at certain media that have grown accustomed to broadcasting false reports about Hamas aimed at distorting the movement’s image and seeking to influence its foreign relations.

It was [Beirut-based] al-Mayadeen TV that first reported this news, in fact. The station is very close to Hamas; it has supported it, and is almost the sole channel that hosts Hamas officials on its shows. And it was the first to publish Hamas’ latest political document that includes an amendment to its covenant and speaks of the movement’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state in the territories occupied in June 1967, but without recognizing Israel or abandoning its aim of liberating all of historic Palestine.

Qatar has been subjected to enormous American and Israeli pressures over the past six months because of the presence of former Hamas Politburo head Mr. Khaled Mish’al in Doha together with other Politburo members such as Musa Abu-Marzouk, Mohammad Nazzal, and ‘Izzat ar-Rashaq, as well Saleh al-‘Arouri whom the Turkish government expelled from its territory in compliance with one of the Israeli occupation state’s preconditions for reconciliation.

Mr. ‘Arouri (Abu-Mohammad) played a major role in establishing the movement’s military wing in the West Bank (Qassam Brigades). He was arrested and spent over 15 years in Israeli prisons. He was also one of the negotiators who concluded the prisoners’ exchange deal that secured the release of [Gaza-held Israeli soldier] Shalit. Moreover, Israel accuses him of being behind the kidnapping of three settlers in Hebron and killing them in revenge for burning the youth Mohammad Abu-Khdeir (17 years) alive [in June 2014]. The Israeli government then used the three settlers’ death as a pretext to launch its aggression on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

In his speech before the May 22nd Riyadh Arab and Islamic summits, and in the presence of the Saudi monarch and a number of Arab and Gulf leaders including Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Egyptian President ‘Abdelfattah as-Sissi, Jordanian monarch ‘Abdullah II, Palestinian President Mahmoud ‘Abbas, Abu-Dhabi Crown-Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, and many other leaders, U.S. President Donald Trump described Hamas and Hizbollahas terrorist movements.

According to Gulf diplomatic sources, President Trump’s meeting with Sheikh Tamim on the margins of the Riyadh summit was a tense one. The U.S. president protested against the fact that Hamas officials have taken Doha as their headquarters, reflecting Israel’s complaints and demands in this regard.

Al-Mayadeen TV, which was the first to claim that Qatar has asked Hamas officials to leave its territories, did not reveal any of their names. But the common belief is that the leading official in this regard is Mr. ‘Arouri who is said to be Hamas’ most prominent field commander in charge of its West Bank operations.

What lends credibility to the presence of growing U.S. and Israeli pressures on Qatar is that Mr. Khaled Mish’al and his companions faced numerous difficulties when they tried to hold a press conference in Doha to unveil the movement’s new political document. The venue for the conference was changed three times because international hotels – including the Doha Intercontinental – declined to host it.

During the 2014 crisis, when the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain were withdrawn from Doha, Qatar complied with the three Gulf countries’ preconditions for reconciliation. The most important was to banish the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders from Doha. And in fact, these leaders moved to Istanbul and other countries such the UK. Moreover, [Qatari-owned] Al-Jazeera Egypt was shut down and the Brotherhood’s media operations and TV channels were moved to Turkey.

What we want to say is that Qatar is not stronger than Turkey, which submitted to U.S. and Israeli pressures and banished Mr. ‘Arouri. In fact, we believe that that the fact Hamas’ new Politburo head Mr. Ismail Haniyeh has decided not to move to Doha like Mr. Mish’al was in response to a Qatari request.

The urgent question concerns where these Hamas officials are likely to head to should Qatar submit to U.S. pressures in the coming days. Will some return to Turkey, or will they head for Beirut and act as Hizbollah’s guests after relations between Hamas and Qatar on the one hand and Iran on the other,have improved? Or will they head to the Gaza Strip? In the latter case, Egypt’s acquiescence is necessary. In fact, this issue is likely to be on the agenda of the meetings held by the Hamas delegation that has arrived in Cairo led by the movement’s head in the Gaza Strip, Yahiya as-Sinwar.

On Sunday [yesterday], Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Al Khalifa confirmed to the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat that he has no information about any diplomatic efforts to resolve the Qatari crisis. This means that the Egyptian/Saudi/Emirati/Bahraini quartet insists that Qatar must comply with all their preconditions before any Kuwaiti or other mediation to settle the dispute can begin. These include severing Qatar’s relations with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and all its branches, including Hamas, as well as not hosting any Gulf opposition figures on its territories.

The fact is that Qatar did hand over Saudi opposition figure Mohammad ‘Abdullah al-‘Oteibi to Riyadh as he was on his way to Norway after obtaining a valid visa and political asylum for himself and his family. It can thus not be ruled out that Qatar may also ask some Hamas leaders to leave.

Qatar’s coming days will be difficult. The media war on it continues, and what lies ahead only seems worse. In fact, God knows what sort of pressures and concessions the coming days will bear.

When threats reach the throne, all other issues take a backseat and a search begins for ways out, solutions, and concessions. For nothing takes precedence over remaining in power.

“History’s past and present lessons have taught us this”.