Qatar has so far played an important role in the exchange of hostages between Israel and Hamas terrorists. The question of the influence of the small emirate on the Persian Gulf on the terrorist brigades in Gaza, which emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the conflict between the Western community of states and the authoritarian state should be examined in more detail.
The first women and children abducted by Hamas on October 7 have now been released. Israel’s government had meanwhile agreed to a ceasefire lasting several days in return for the release of Israeli hostages. Hamas confirmed the deal and also announced the release of Palestinian prisoners. And everyone asked Qatar to mediate. “We are closer to an agreement than ever before,” announced the spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry. The Gulf country has been considered the most promising mediator since the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7 and the Israeli counterattack. The emirate under the leadership of Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has good connections with all parties to the conflict. It houses the political leadership of the terrorist group Hamas and maintains stable contacts with Iran. With its current success, the small emirate is also sharpening its profile as an indispensable intermediary. Doha presents itself as an actor that speaks to forces on sensitive issues that no one in the West wanted to speak to; with the Taliban, for example, and with Hamas. Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who took power in Qatar in 2013, has aligned the foreign policy of his country, one of the richest in the world, with this in mind.
US troops are stationed at Al Udeid Air Base, the base of the Qatari Air Force. Qatar also maintains good relations with Israel, which has a trade office in Doha. With the war in Ukraine, the emirate’s importance as a gas supplier grew; it has the third largest reserves in the world. But it is only through the war in Gaza that the Emir’s ambitions to play an important role on the global level seem to have been realized. In recent weeks, top politicians from all over the world have repeatedly traveled to Doha, from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the German Annalena Baerbock to the Iranian Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Everyone asked Qatar to mediate.
The negotiated solution is a great success for Qatar even if not all hostages are released. Turkey and Egypt also vied for the role of mediator. For the Emir, the ceasefire and the release are also important because criticism has recently grown that Qatar harbors Hamas leaders like Ismail Hanija and has long financed the terrorist organization. In mid-October, US Secretary of State Blinken said during a visit to Doha that the Hamas presence in Qatar could not continue. EU representatives also criticized the fact that the emirate had not used all of its options to influence the terrorist group. Qatar always countered that the money went to Hamas with the consent of Israel, which wanted to weaken the rival Palestinian Authority. And Hamas’ settlement in the Gulf in 2012 also happened with the consent of the US. The political leadership of Hamas was based in Syria for a long time and had to look for a new headquarters when it opposed the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in the Arab Spring. The USA favored the move to Qatar because it had better relations with the emirate than with Lebanon, which would also have been an option for Hamas.
However, when it comes to the perception of authoritarian Qatar, everyone knows that the emirate is also on the other side. There were times when, as a result of the 2011 Arabellion, Qatar promoted the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to increase its influence. Influential circles also supported jihadist Islamist groups in Syria. In recent weeks there has been more than just praise for Qatar’s mediation work. Doha has also faced criticism for supporting and funding Hamas, which has had a political office there for more than a decade.
Now that the first hostages have been released, Qatar is turning its attention to a possible end to the war in Gaza. “With this agreement, both sides for the first time choose the diplomatic route and do not prefer to continue the fighting that has brought so much pain and suffering to innocent civilians. We hope that this agreement can pave the way for a sustainable end to the war,” said official statements from Doha. After the war, the international community must come together to support a comprehensive political process capable of “finally ending” the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Top Western diplomats also see the diplomatic success on the hostage issue as a possible door opener for more far-reaching negotiations.
There is also a great contrast in attitudes towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Qatar is such an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause that condemnation of Hamas terrorism in public statements falls short for many Western listeners. At the same time, there is a lack of understanding in Doha for the stance of the American or German governments, both of which emphasize Israel’s right to self-defense. At the end of October, the Emir declared in the presence of foreign ambassadors: “It is unacceptable that Israel is given an unconditional green light and a license to kill, and it is also unacceptable that the reality of the occupation and settlements continues to be ignored.” Government say sympathy for the Palestinian cause is part of the Qatari DNA. “Qatar is proud to be a country that has never betrayed itself or the Palestinians,” it says.
In Doha, as in other Arab and Western governments, there is great skepticism about the prospects of the desired two-state solution. No Arab government is currently willing to take part in a transitional solution in the coastal strip. Jordan has categorically ruled out an Arab peacekeeping force. Saudi Arabia has signaled that under the current circumstances it has no interest in investing political capital in Gaza. Government officials in Doha made similar but less categorical statements. It simply says that the scale of devastation and killing in Gaza makes transitional engagement for the region’s countries “very difficult.”
When the Qatari leadership now says that the channel of communication with Hamas has been “an effective channel for mediation” over the years, there is satisfaction in being able to counter the critics with a tangible diplomatic success, as well as in the gratitude in Western capitals such as Washington Berlin. If demands are made to close the Hamas office after the war in the Gaza Strip, this is unlikely to be met with fundamental opposition. In this question, Qatar simply highlights the risk that in such a case the Qatari canal could be cut off.
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