Countries across the Middle East are opening their coffers to support the Palestinian cause -- but the funds are increasingly being diverted in a direction that portends renewed conflict with Israel.
The U.S.-supported Palestinian Authority (PA), on the one hand, is rapidly heading for the poor house. Even after a promised $100 million injection of funds from the Saudis (which has not yet been delivered), the PA will still be suffering its worst cash crunch in years. It has an estimated budget shortfall of $1 billion for 2012 and has already stopped making payroll to its government employees. Yet regional leaders seem nonplussed about their longtime client's budget woes; their pledges of support continue to go unfulfilled.
Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, Hamas -- the Islamist faction that violently wrested control of the area from the PA in 2007 -- is riding high on the beneficence of its new allies. After a rocky period during which Iran's largesse to Hamas dried up, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ongoing slaughter in Syria forced the group's external leaders to flee from their headquarters in Damascus, the group has regained its footing.
Hamas has two of the Middle East's emerging Sunni powerhouses to thank for its change of fortunes.
Qatar, despite an uneasy alliance with Washington that hinges on hosting a key U.S. airbase and now a new missile-defense station, has quietly become one of the Palestinian Islamist party's most generous new benefactors. In February, Hamas officials announced they had signed a $250 million deal with the Qatari government for reconstruction projects in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Doha is also providing funds for sports and housing projects in the Gaza Strip, according to other media reports.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of Qatari support is Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas' external operations. As Assad's crackdown on Syria's predominantly Sunni opposition grew ever bloodier, Asharq al-Awsat reported in February that Meshal would leave Hamas headquarters in Damascus permanently and carry out his work from Qatar. Indeed, Qatar appears to be the new global headquarters of the Hamas politburo: A June 2012 Congressional Research Service report confirmed Meshal's relocation to Doha, noting that the Gulf emirate is the place where he "conducts his regular engagement with regional figures."
The Qataris also appear to be helping Hamas reintegrate into the Sunni fold. That's a tall order, considering that Hamas had long been on the Iranian dole -- the party is best known as an ally of the mullahs that has unleashed rocket attacks and suicide bombings across Israel, killing hundreds. But while the Iranian weapons pipeline still appears to be robust, known Iranian economic assistance has dwindled to small building projects -- and Qatar is exploiting this window of opportunity. In late January, for example, Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani accompanied a Hamas delegation to Jordan, the first time the group had made an official visit to Amman since Jordan's King Abdullah expelled it in 1999.
Turkey's Islamist government has also embraced Hamas, both economically and diplomatically. In December, the International Middle East Media Center, run out of the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, cited Turkish sources claiming that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had "instructed the Ministry of Finance to allocate $300 million to be sent to Hamas' government in Gaza." Hamas denied this, but Reuters and the Israeli newspaper of record, Haaretz, published subsequent reports, citing different sources, confirming this financial relationship.