WASHINGTON — The United Nations and the Palestinian government may have called Tuesday for international donors to provide some $550 million in aid to Gaza, but in Washington, Congress was urged to increase oversight into aid channeled to the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers. During a House subcommittee hearing focusing on Hamas funding channels, Turkey and Qatar – two states that are likely to take lead roles in Gaza relief efforts — were among those singled out for their strong support for the Islamist group and its leaders.
In an initial statement to the House Foreign Affairs joint subcommittee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) criticized Turkey for providing “financial, material and political support” for Hamas, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, complaining that it “has been doing so for years, without repercussions.”
She also critiqued Qatar – “the very same Qatar that the administration entrusted to monitor the Taliban 5, who were swapped for Sergeant [Bowe] Bergdahl, and which it recently agreed to an $11 billion arms sale with” as also having “been known to be perhaps Hamas’ largest financial patron.”
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracy’s Vice President for Research Jonathan Schanzer warned in testimony submitted to the hearing that after relations between Hamas and Iran cooled off due to fallout from the Syrian civil war, “Qatar appears to have filled much of the void left by Iran.”
While Schanzer discussed Qatar’s political support for Hamas, he also cited an unnamed “Arab diplomat” as saying that “Qatar finances Hamas strongly.”
Much of Qatar’s financing has come in the form of aid to infrastructure and government in the Gaza Strip. In 2006, Qatar offered $50 million to what was then a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority , and in 2012, the Emir of Qatar became the first head of state to visit Gaza, pledging over $400 million dollars of infrastructure money to Hamas.
Schanzer said that Congress should call for Government Accounting Office investigations and intelligence assessments of both Qatar and Turkey, and suggested that “dedicated hearings on each country may also be useful.”
“Both Turkey and Qatar serve as US allies while simultaneously qualifying as state sponsors of terrorism, to the letter of US law,” Schanzer warned. “The problems do not end with Hamas. Both countries have been involved in a plethora of illicit financial activity with a wide array of terrorist groups and rogue states. To be clear, the goal is to change the behavior of both countries and to preserve these alliances, if at all possible.”
In his testimony, Schanzer mentioned concerns that funds directed toward humanitarian ends in Gaza had gone instead to the Hamas leadership.
“According to an Egyptian publication, Muslim Brotherhood groups sent several million dollars to Gaza to help assist civilians to build their houses destroyed in the recent war on the Strip,” he explained. “According to the report, a financial officer from Hamas named Essam al-Da’alis did not distribute the funds to civilians to build their homes, but rather dispersed the funds to prominent members of the militant group.”
Schanzer suggested that funding has not simply been channeled to Hamas’s terror operations, but to the personal coffers of the group’s leadership.
According to reports he cited, Cairo-based Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk has amassed some $2-$3 billion, former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh is currently worth approximately $4 billion, and top party official Ayman Taha recently constructed a private Gaza residence with a million-dollar price tag.
The analyst recommended that the US pressure Qatar to cease funding Hamas, expel the Doha-based Hamas leadership including Khaled Mashaal, and freeze Hamas funds in Qatari banks, adding that if they fail to do so, the US should designate Qatari institutions as channels for terror funding, and could even gesture toward removing the al-Udaid airbase from Qatari territory, as well as putting a hold on pending arms deals with the Persian Gulf State.
Similar pressure, he suggested, could also be applied to Turkey, including calling into question some $800 million in US-based arms deals with the Turkish military.
In the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, both Turkey and Qatar attempted to play a bigger regional role by trying to broker a ceasefire between the two sides. Their input was rejected by Israel and the Palestinian Authority which preferred the Egyptian initiative, and saw the two states as too favorable to Hamas. The US, however, entertained the possibility of a role for Turkey and Qatar, with US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting the foreigns ministers of both countries in late July in a bid to forge a truce.
An open-ended ceasefire was finally agreed to in late August via indirect talks in Egypt. Delegations from Israel and Hamas are expected in Cairo in the coming weeks to hammer out a more long-term agreement and address tough issues such as Hamas’s demands for a seaport and airport and Israel’s stipulation that the remains of two IDF soldiers captured during the ground incursion into Gaza be returned.