Saeb Erakat hopes that the visit of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will not "delegitimise" the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Maan News Agency reported after an interview with the senior Palestinian negotiator on Wednesday.
"Hamas has to understand that governments win legitimacy through electoral polls, not through foreign visits; the West Bank and Gaza Strip are still under occupation and only the PLO enjoys popular legitimacy," Erakat asserted.
The prominent negotiator – who is associated with the Fatah movement, Hamas' chief rival – went on to express hope that the visit might improve the lives of the people in Gaza, contribute to ending the Israeli blockade on the strip, and persuade Fatah leaders to implement an earlier reconciliation deal between the two factions.
The emir's visit to Gaza was the first of its kind by a head of state since Hamas seized the territory from Fatah in a 2007 pre-emptive coup.
The visit by the Qatari ruler is widely seen as a coup for Hamas, breaking the political isolation imposed on the Islamist movement by the international community over the past five years.
The last time the emir visited Gaza was in 1999, when he was welcomed by late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Gaza's international airport in Rafah, which was later destroyed by Israeli raids during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
Personalities who have visited Gaza, including the UN secretary-general or European foreign ministers, have avoided contact with Hamas, due to its stated refusal to recognise the Tel Aviv regime and renounce armed resistance against the ongoing theft of Palestinian land.
Live images broadcast on Al Jazeera showed the Qatari leader embracing Gaza's Hamas-affiliated Prime Minister Ismail Haniya after crossing into the coastal enclave from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
During his brief visit, the emir inaugurated a $254-million Qatari investment project aimed at rebuilding the impoverished and overcrowded Gaza Strip, vast swathes of which were levelled during Israel's 22-day 'Cast Lead' operation in 2008/09 in which some 1500 Palestinians – most of them civilians – were killed by Israeli airstrikes.
"We have seen the reports that Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa visited Gaza today on a humanitarian mission," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We share Qatar's deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza."
Nuland indicated that Qatar had not given the United States advance warning of the emir's visit.