Interestingly, this report comes not from a Western or Israeli source but from “a senior Fatah official” who spoke with Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper based in London. The Jerusalem Post picks up the story from Al-Hayat, in which the official from the rival Palestinian faction blames yesterday’s cease-fire violation by Hamas on Qatar, which has long hosted Hamas leadership. The Qataris refused to allow Khaled Mashaal to approve a longer-term truce with Israel without their participation in the talks, and threatened to kick Mashaal out of the country unless he began waging war again to pressure Egypt into an invitation:
A senior Fatah official is quoted by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat as saying that the Qatari government threatened to expel the Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, if the Palestinian Islamist group agreed to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal. …
The Fatah official told Al-Hayat that Hamas has insisted that Qatar be given a seat at the negotiating table in Cairo. According to the official, Hamas wants either the Qatari foreign minister or the head of intelligence to be permitted to take part in the discussions.
Egypt has adamantly refused to permit Qatar to participate in the cease-fire talks, according to the report. Cairo wants a Qatari apology for the government’s policies toward Egypt since the military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood brought Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power.
If so, that puts the US in a difficult spot. Several American administrations have tried to build up an alliance with the Qataris, and we recently sold them $11 billion in military equipment to sweeten the relationship. Even more recently, Barack Obama cut a deal with the Taliban for the release of Bowe Bergdahl that included the release of five of the most dangerous Taliban figures in Guantanamo, who will spend the next year under the supervision of the same Qataris. If this report from the “senior Fatah official” is true, then it considerably undermines what little confidence Americans had in the Bergdahl swap, among other things.
Among those other things is John Kerry, Jeff Dunetz argues:
If the Al-Hayat report is true then the break down of talks falls directly at the feet of John Kerry. It was the United States Secretary of State who initially brought Qatar into the talks over the objections of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Now that those parties have frozen out the terrorist-funding Qatar, the Qatari government want to make sure they don’t succeed.
That’s true even if this report isn’t. The idea to rope Turkey and Qatar into the process was a dumb idea from the beginning, as it legitimized Hamas as a governing organization rather than treated them as the terrorist group that they are. It cut the knees out from under the Palestinian Authority as well, with whom Israel had at least some basis of cooperation in the West Bank. That brings us to whether this report can be trusted, however. Fatah has every reason to pin failure on Qatar in order to keep them out of the peace talks. Qatar will favor Hamas over Fatah in any settlement in which they participate, so it’s in Fatah’s interest as well as Egypt’s to keep them locked out of the talks.
As to the identity of the “senior Fatah official” who spoke to Al-Hayat, don’t forget who went to Qatar this week: Mahmoud Abbas. He was set to meet with Mashaal today or tomorrow to discuss the peace talks, but that was scheduled prior to Israel uncovering the Hamas coup plot against the Palestinian Authority. To say that there is motivation to marginalize Hamas and its Qatari backers is to engage in understatement.
Egypt, meanwhile, is not about to invite the Qataris or anyone else backing Hamas to these talks. They are fighting their own insurgency in the Sinai, for which they blame the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the parent organization of Hamas. Today they found four beheaded corpses near a village in the peninsula, and Reuters reports that this is part of a stepped-up terror campaign by MB-linked groups protesting the al-Sisi military government:
Four beheaded corpses were found by residents of a town in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, security sources said, blaming Islamist militants waging an insurgency against Cairo.
The security sources in Sinai and Cairo, said residents of Sheikh Zuwaid found the bodies two days after the men were abducted by gunmen while traveling in a car in the town, a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip.
Though the men were civilians, they may have been targeted for their perceived allegiance to the police and army, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They gave no other indication of the identity of the men.
The militants have stepped up attacks on policemen and soldiers since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013.
The government does not distinguish between the Sinai militants and the Brotherhood, which it has designated a terrorist group although the movement says it is peaceful and denies any links to the wave of militant attacks.
In other words, Cairo won’t be particularly well disposed to nations who fund MB-related groups anyway, and that probably applies particularly to Hamas. If John Kerry wants to be useful, he should apply American pressure on Qatar to butt out of the Gaza peace process, or kick Mashaal out for good and let him take his own chances in Gaza City rather than cheer on war from the safety of Doha. The Israelis are targeting Hamas leadership now that Hamas has broken another cease-fire, but Mashaal might have more to fear from other Gazans if he shows up in the enclave.