Two senior Hamas and Fatah leaders appeared in a joint Zoom press conference on July 2, 2020; it deserves our attention. Jibril Rajoub, secretary-general of the Fatah Central Committee, spoke from Ramallah, while Salah al-Aruri joined via video call from Beirut, from where he directs Hamas’ terrorist activities on the West Bank.
While the presentation was described in the media as Hamas-Fatah joint meeting, it was much more. It was a meeting between the two prominent clients and representatives of Qatar (and Turkey) in the West Bank and Gaza, and the event should be understood as a declaration by Qatar (and Turkey) that they were entering into the fray to decide on the successor to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
In the opening of his address, Rajoub repeated what Abbas had said earlier about the need for unity based on his personal point of view. It was strange to mention that the leader of the PLO speaks on his personal behalf, but it positioned the entire meeting with Aruri as a personal event.
And indeed – when we watch the TV screen, we cannot find any formal symbols – neither of Fatah or the PLO nor Hamas. Just Palestinian flags behind them. Aruri, sitting in Beirut, had a picture of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
While Rajoub was speaking about the regional challenges like stopping Arab states from normalizing with Israel, he added an implied warning when he said, “We shall protect your oil” – that is to say— we may attack your oil unless….” Aruri concentrated on the West Bank and Jerusalem only. He did not refer to Gaza at all despite Hamas’ exclusive rule there.
The PA’s Mahmoud Abbas recently received calls from Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal and Ismail Haniyeh, who now reside in Qatar, about opening the doors for Qatari influence in the West Bank. Qatar funds Hamas and delivers tens of millions of dollars for Hamas to distribute to Gaza residents. Will Abbas respond positively to the Qatar-Hamas request?
Abbas decided to open for Qatar a little bit because of the perceived indifference of the Arab states which barely responded to his alarm calls on annexation. An example: during the major rally held in Jericho on June 22 against Israel’s “annexation,” of all the other Arab ambassadors, only the Jordanian ambassador spoke. Envoys from China, Russia, UN, and the EU delivered remarks, while the Arab ambassadors listened politely.
Any attempt by the PA to give Qatar access into the West Bank will be harshly received in Cairo and Riyadh, so it was no surprise that immediately after the press conference, the PA was quick to arrest Hamas personnel.