In first talk with Israeli press, al-Amadi details efforts to rebuild Strip, lauds ‘excellent’ ties with Jerusalem officials
February 12, 2017
Qatar’s special envoy to Gaza, Muhammad al-Amadi, said that he maintains “excellent” ties with various Israeli officials, and that in some case it is Palestinian officials who are holding up efforts to better the lives of residents of the Strip.
“I am in contact with senior Israeli officials and agencies and the relationship is great,” al-Amadi told The Times of Israel in an interview last week, the first time an official Qatari representative has spoken with Israeli press.
“The head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, [Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai], is of course one of them, but there are others,” he said.
Al-Amadi, who heads the National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, has long been shuttling between Doha, Israel, and the Gaza Strip. He is the Qatar royal family’s official appointment in charge of the Strip’s reconstruction, and has the title of ambassador.
In his role, al-Amadi has succeeded in resolving a variety of crises, including a recent surge of power cuts that sparked stormy demonstrations against Hamas across the Strip.
Over the weekend, al-Amadi participated in the dedication of the second half of Hamad, a new neighborhood for Palestinian families who lost their homes during Hamas’s war with Israel in 2014. The houses were built with Qatari funding.
During the ceremony, senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh brought up the $100 million in aid that Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani promised for the Strip.
“First, I must say that this sum has not been yet been transferred,” al-Amadi admitted to The Times of Israel. “In the future, the money will be used for solving the Gaza Strip’s electricity problem, the establishment of a hospital in Rafah, road rehabilitation, and a variety of other development projects. In Hamad alone, we have completed building 2,224 of 3,200 apartments. But we are pausing at this stage in order to receive the rest of the pledged money as well as lands. Among other things, [the money] is also earmarked for the establishment of neighborhood schools.”
Al-Amadi also serves as mediator between Israel and Hamas on the issue of prisoners. Israel is seeking to free three citizens believed held by Hamas, as well retrieve as the bodies of two soldiers killed in the Strip in 2014.
But when pressed on the subject, he preferred not to answer. “I do not confirm nor deny these things,” he said. “This is a very sensitive matter, particularly for the Israeli side.”
The PA as obstacle to Gaza reconstruction
Al-Amadi’s interview was unprecedented, and it isn’t entirely clear whether it was part of a new development on the part of Qatar, which does not maintain official ties with Israel, or simply a private initiative on his part. Israeli officials visit Doha on occasion, but those visits are considered confidential and are not reported on in the media.
Al-Amadi said he planned to meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Sunday regarding an agreement that would help solve the Gaza energy crisis.
He said that while Israel has agreed to take part in the deal, the Palestinian Authority has been holding it up.
“We proposed the establishment of a technical committee, free of politicians, that would be responsible for handling Gaza’s energy problem. The committee would be composed of experts from Gaza, [Qatar], the UN, and UNRWA; and they would manage Gaza’s energy affairs,” said al-Amadi.
“This is a very serious matter that should help you in Israel as well, since these are your neighbors that are without regular electricity and water flowing to their homes. The Israelis understand this and are helping, but there are other parties that are not” — namely, the PA.
“We are talking about a three-staged plan: The first stage deals primarily with solving the problem of payment for fuel,” he said, noting that there’s been a longstanding dispute between Hamas and the PA on that front.
“[For] the second or intermediate stage,” al-Amadi continued, “we are talking with Israel about the construction of a power line between Israel and Gaza that would help with the the power outages.
“The long-term stage concerns the supply of gas to the Strip in a manner that would increase the output of the power plant, thus allowing for more power in Gaza. Gas costs one-fifth of the price of the diesel currently operating the power plant,” al-Amadi concluded.
He also shared that Qatar had suggested to Israel the establishment of an industrial zone on the Gaza border in an attempt to curtail burgeoning unemployment in the Strip.
“Anything that can lead to a reduction in the unemployment rate is excellent. We also offered Israel the construction of a seaport and airport,” he says.
Hamas and Qatar
Al-Amadi is known for his connections with the Hamas leadership in the Strip. Qatar is today considered to be the main patron of the terror organization, whose political leadership, including Khaled Mashaal, Osama Hamdan and Saleh al-Arouri, currently resides in Doha.
Just two weeks ago, Ismail Haniyeh — considered by many to be the leading candidate in the upcoming elections to head Hamas’s political wing — returned from an extended stay in Qatar.
Haniyeh apparently received significant financial pledges from Doha.
Yet, Doha recently made a substantial rapprochement with the PA, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, recently returned from Qatar, where he met with Haniyeh under the auspices of the Qatari emir. Jibril Rajoub, a close Abbas confidant who is also considered to be one of the key rising figures within Fatah, is known to have close ties with the Qatari royal family.
Meanwhile, London’s Asharq al-Awsat paper reported over the weekend that representatives from Hamas’s military wing won a majority of the key positions in internal Gaza elections.
The winners are figures who have worked their way into the halls of power through the recent elections and are thought of as the new commanders of the military wing. Among them is Marwan Issa, as well as officials considered to be the link between the political and military wings, such as Ruhi Mushtaha and Yahya Sinwar. The victory of the military officials in the political bureau elections is seen as a triumph in particular for Sinwar, whose men currently lead the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade and who is known within the organization for his hawkish views.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.