Israel Approves Qatar Emir's Visit to West Bank, in Nod to Abbas

Israel approved the visit under assumption that the emir will offer financial aid to the struggling Palestinian Authority, and give Palestinian Authority diplomatic strengthening over Hamas rival.

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The emir of Qatar will visit the West Bank at the end of the month, on an official trip coordinated between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Israel approved the visit as Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani expected to offer financial aid to alleviate the Palestinian Authority's financial crisis.

Sheikh Hamad will enter the West Bank through Jordan, a path which requires Israel's approval and must be coordinated in advance.

The Palestinian Authority lodged its request at the beginning of the week, and Israel hesitated at first to green-light the visit, but Major General Eitan Dangot, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, eventually granted his approval.

The defense establishment expects the official visit to give a diplomatic boost to the Palestinian Authority against its Hamas rival in the Gaza Strip.

Sheikh Hamad visited the Gaza Strip in October. His trip was seen as an embrace of the Hamas leadership, breaking the isolation of the Palestinian Islamist movement to the dismay of Israel and rival, Western-backed Palestinian leaders.

This was the first visit to Gaza by any national leader since Hamas seized control of the enclave and its 1.7 million people from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's forces in 2007. Israel had pulled out its troops and settlers from the territory two years earlier.

Qatar has called the visit a humanitarian gesture, to inaugurate reconstruction projects financed by the emirate. After initially earmarking $250 million for the schemes, a smiling Haniyeh announced the fund now stood at $400 million.

Israel said at the time that it was "astounding" that Qatar, a U.S.-allied Gulf state whose oil and gas permit it to punch way above its diplomatic weight, would take sides in the Palestinian dispute and endorse Hamas, branded as terrorists in the West. The emir had "thrown peace under the bus," an Israeli spokesman said.

The emir, who is rare among Arab rulers in having met senior Israeli officials, denounced Israel's policies and praised people in Gaza for standing up to it with "bare chests" - but he also urged rival Palestinian leaders to abandon their feuds.

Abbas said at the time that he hoped the Qatari visit would not hinder the rebuilding of Palestinian unity, nor endorse a separate Palestinian territory in Gaza.

Qatar called that visit a humanitarian gesture, to inaugurate reconstruction projects financed by the emirate. After initially earmarking $250 million for the schemes, a smiling Haniyeh announced the fund now stood at $400 million.

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on his visit to Gaza Strip. Credit: Reuters

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