Elia Zureik, Doha Institute Associate Fellow at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies delivered the weekly ACRPS seminar on Wednesday, 22 November, 2017. Zureik, Professor Emeritus at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada and a world renowned expert on the Palestinian cause, used his seminar to discuss the issue of humanitarian aid from Qatar to the Palestinian Territories. Zureik's seminar was part of his ongoing research to better document Qatari assistance to the Palestinian people, understood from within the broader context of Qatari aid delivered to other countries throughout the Middle East region.
Zureik's seminar began with an overview of the definition of humanitarian aid as a form of soft power, arguing that Qatar was a relative newcomer to the world of "aid diplomacy". Up to and throughout the 1990s, said Zureik, Doha had remained an "intermediary" in the world of "aid diplomacy" but, as illustrated by reports in the Arabic printed press and other data sources, Qatar's role as an exporter of aid escalated dramatically between 2010 and 2016.
According to figures which the speaker presented, Qatar spent a total of US$ 3.6 billion on foreign aid in 100 recipient countries between 2011 and 2015. While Arab recipients were given priority, Zureik also explained that most recipients of Qatari aid were non-Arab, and that these included a number of UN bodies, such as the UN Food Program; UNESCO; UNRWA; the international body responsible for registered Palestinian refugees and the Norwegian Refugee Council. During that period, Palestine and the Palestinians accounted for $800 million of the recipients of Qatari aid. The majority of these lived in the Gaza Strip, with the aid being channeled mainly to housing, health, education and poverty reduction. A fuller understanding of the processes by which Qatari aid reached the Palestinians, said Prof. Zureik, required an acknowledgement of Israeli military dominance of the Palestinian Territories and the Israelis' ability to control what aid actually arrived through the use of hard power.
Zureik also discussed Palestinian popular support for Qatar's diplomatic efforts towards Palestinian reconciliation. Citing an opinion survey conducted in March, 2012, Zureik said that 84% of Palestinians supported the "Doha Agreement" which attempted to resolve differences between Fatah and Hamas, brokered in the Qatari capital a month prior to the poll. He cited the same survey to show that 69% expressly supported the role of Qatar in trying to bring about reconciliation between the two main political factions of Palestine, despite the fact that most respondents to the survey doubted the durability of any deal between Fatah and Hamas.
Zureik explained that, in Palestine, Qatari aid was channeled largely to improving infrastructure within the health and education sectors, as well as to improving electricity, housing and roads. Zureik also elaborated how this could be understood within the broader aims of Qatar's foreign policy. Quoting Doha's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Zureik explained that Doha devoted one-quarter of its aid budget to promoting educational programs as a means of countering violent extremism amongst youth. In other words, explained the speaker, Qatar was using its soft power to help combat violent ideological groups.