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Squeezing Qatar to Make Hamas Scream

Walter Russell Mead

With the Saudi and UAE-led power play against Qatar underway it seems that a major squeeze on Hamas in in the works. As Asharq Al-Awsat reports:

Hamas, a sister movement to the Brotherhood, now fears paying the price of future Qatari-Arab reconciliations, particularly since backing the Brotherhood is one of the major reasons listed by the Arab powers on Monday for severing their diplomatic relations with Qatar.

Concern has spread to the ranks of Hamas […] when the movement started to witness changes in Qatari political support, particularly when Doha officially asked Hamas not to use its territories for directing any activities against Israel, as uncovered by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Sunday. [….]

On Monday, Palestinian and Israeli sources confirmed that [Hamas Politburo member Saleh] al-Arouri and another official, Moussa Doudine, were expelled from Qatar. Hamas has however denied the reports.

While the embargo against Qatar is intended to bring it into closer alignment with its neighbors and into the anti-Iran front, the midterm goal may well be to drive Hamas from power in Gaza, unifying the Palestinians under a pliant Fatah that will be economically and politically dependent on a united front of Gulf powers and paymasters.

The Saudis and Emiratis seem to be operating under the belief that they need to build a Gulf power axis in a world of Iranian expansion and Turkish activism. This necessarily involves cooperation with Israel, as without Israeli support the Gulf Arabs plus Egypt cannot hold their own against the regional powers of Turkey and Iran.

Iran is the larger and more immediate threat, but the Gulf Arabs are also concerned about an Islamist, southward looking and neo-Ottoman Turkey; they remember that before the Europeans overran the Middle East, it was de facto partitioned between the Persians and the Ottoman Turks with the Arabs marginalized. The weaknesses, divisions and financial stresses now afflicting the Arab Sunni world mean that it cannot hold its own without non-Arab support. Israel—a strong country that is too small to threaten the Arabs in their own lands but can even out the balance with the other regional powers—makes an ideal partner from the Arab standpoint.

Within that context, it would be possible to imagine a course going forward that offers the prospect for some kind of deal between Israel and the Palestinians—a deal that puts the holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem under Arab sovereignty and creates a post-Hamas Palestinian state under the thumbs of the Gulf states and Egypt. The Israelis could count on their non-Palestinian Arab allies to provide the guarantees they need about the behavior of the Palestinian state; the Arabs save face even as they forge a strategic relationship with Israel; and the Palestinian Authority gets recognition and a large and reliable infusion of Arab cash and Saudi backed religious legitimacy.

That may or may not be possible, and there are a lot of moving parts in this scenario. But the dramatic events in the Middle East seem to be pointing in this general direction.

It would be a true irony of history if Obama’s Middle East legacy turns out to be an Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran, with Donald Trump getting the opportunity to seal a peace deal between Netanyahu and Abbas.

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