Abbas visits Qatar in bid for support to persuade Hamas to agree to elections

Doha is key mediator between Gaza terror group and Israel, and PA reportedly is hoping it will use its influence to get Hamas to agree to Palestinian national reconciliation

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Monday, December 15, 2020 (WAFA)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Monday, December 15, 2020 (WAFA)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Qatari head of state Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Doha on Monday.

The official Palestinian WAFA news agency said in a statement only that the leaders discussed “issues of mutual interest,” but reports said Abbas was looking to get Qatar to use its influence with the rival Hamas group to agree to hold elections.

“The president praised Qatar’s position in support of the Palestinian people’s right to regain their undiminished and full rights,” Abbas’s office said in a statement.

The visit to Qatar was Abbas’s third state visit since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March. The aging PA president — long tethered to Ramallah due to health concerns — visited Amman and Cairo at the end of November.

Tamim affirmed “his country’s position in support of the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people’s right to regain their rights and establish their independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital,” the Qatari head of state said in a statement carried by WAFA.

Tamim tweeted that he “stressed the importance of Palestinian unity.”

The visit also comes amid the recent signing of normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab nations, moves bitterly rejected by the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha on August 9, 2018. (Wafa/Thaer Ghnaim)

According to a report by Israel’s Kan public broadcaster, the Palestinian premier was in Doha to pressure Hamas into accepting holding the first national Palestinian elections in 14 years on Fatah’s terms.

The Fatah party, which is headed by Abbas, and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the terror group ousted the PA from Gaza in 2007. Many efforts to reconcile the two sides have failed.

Senior Fatah officials have publicly stated their preference for legislative elections, followed by presidential elections, while Hamas has insisted on holding both simultaneously. Abbas has previously traveled to Qatar seeking to discuss holding elections.

Qatar has been a key player in mediating ties between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

It played host to Hamas leaders in its capital; former Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal settled in Doha in 2012 after fleeing the nascent civil war in Syria.

But the Qatari government also cultivates ties with the Israeli government, and Doha has reportedly mediated short-term ceasefires between Israel and Hamas on several occasions. Qatar is also responsible for sending tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Many previous attempts to end the long-running rift between the West Bank-based Fatah and Gaza-based Hamas have ended in failure. Most observers consider the possibility of reconciliation — and the Palestinian national elections it would entail — as unlikely this time around.

Several rounds of unity talks this summer in protest of an Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank reportedly went well, with both sides committing themselves to hold national Palestinian elections “within the next six months.”

But negotiations ended unceremoniously in November when Ramallah said it was restoring ties with Israel following the victory of US President-elect Joe Biden. To make matters worse, the change in policy was announced as Fatah Secretary General Jibril Rajoub was sitting down for talks with Hamas in Cairo.

Abbas was accompanied on his trip to Doha this week by senior PA minister Hussein al-Sheikh, intelligence chief Majed Faraj, and PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. The four landed in Doha on Sunday night before returning to the West Bank on Monday.

Qatar is also dealing with its own issues. It has been engaged in three-year struggle with its neighbors — especially the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — which have blockaded it and sought to isolate it internationally.

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