Qatar, Tiny Axis of Evil

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -

The explosions rocking the Gaza Strip may seem far removed from the flashy cars and skyscrapers of ultra-rich Qatar, but efforts to end fighting between Hamas and Israel could hinge on how the tiny Gulf Arab state wields its influence over a Palestinian terrorist group with few friends left.

Qatar has been home to Hamas chief-in-exile Khaled Mashaal since 2012 and has carved out a role as a key financial patron for Gaza, buying influence while shoring up an economy overseen by Hamas.

That support is prompting accusations that Qatar helped scuttle a truce in the monthlong Gaza war, piling on pressure as the U.S. ally finds itself increasingly isolated as larger Mideast powers marginalize Islamists following the Arab Spring.

An official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement suggested Wednesday that Qatar torpedoed the peace talks. After signs of progress last week, Hamas negotiators returned to the table after consultations in Qatar with new conditions — prompting a similar response by Israel, he said.

The official said the experience indicated the Qataris “have no interest” in seeing Egyptian-led talks succeed, and that Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood are working together to undermine Egypt.

The London-based pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat separately quoted a senior Fatah official saying Qatar threatened to expel Mashaal if Hamas accepted an Egyptian peace proposal.

Qatari officials could not be reached to comment on the claims. A Qatar-based spokesman for Hamas dismissed the Al-Hayat report as baseless and said it was an attempt to sabotage the negotiations.

“This is nonsense … The nature of relations between Qatar and Hamas are not like that,” Hamas spokesman Husam Badran told The Associated Press.

An Israeli government official said he did not know if Qatar actively encouraged Hamas to take a hard line, but said Qatar was at least indirectly responsible for the talks’ failure.

“Qatar unfortunately has been part of the problem. They are the major supporter of Hamas,” the Israeli official said.

Qatar at one point allowed an Israeli trade office to operate there — a rarity in the Arab world — before ordering it closed after a 2008 Israeli conflict with Hamas.

The outpost’s former head, Eli Avidar, told the AP that he believes Qatar has “enormous influence” over Hamas.

“Right now Qatar is the main problem and definitely not part of the solution,” he wrote. “The ruling family in Qatar should understand that this is a dangerous game their emir is playing.”

But in a development reflecting both Qatar’s significance and influence over Hamas, the Gulf country’s news agency reported that Abbas arrived Wednesday in Doha, where he was due to hold talks with Mashaal and the emir.

Qatar’s leaders reject suggestions that they are behind Hamas. “Qatar does not support Hamas. Qatar supports the Palestinians,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah told CNN in late July.

U.S. State Dept. spokeswoman Marie Harf called the Qataris “a key partner” in the effort to forge a peace deal in Gaza earlier this week, before talks collapsed. Responding to questions whether they support terrorism and Hamas, she said they play a key role in getting Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.