Qatar is gradually assuming the role of mediator with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Among other things, this is in efforts to fend off international criticism of the close ties and aid it has extended to Hamas, which murdered more than 1,400 Israelis less than two weeks ago, and took several hundred more hostage. The emirate, one of the richest countries in the world in per capita income terms due to its huge oil and gas revenues, positions itself as a "super player," able to talk to all parties in various conflicts. A senior Qatari official even told a German newspaper on Sunday that he is "optimistic" about the imminent release of more civilian hostages from Israel.
Qatar has played a double game in recent decades. On the one hand, it is an ally of the US (with a US military command base in the country) and Israel (through which it transfers funds to the Gaza Strip), and on the other hand it has good relations with Iran and Hamas, and even hosts senior officials of the terrorist organization's political arm in luxurious conditions in exclusive hotels. Qatar is currently the focus of international scrutiny. Videos have been circulated on social media accusing the state, which invests heavily in European and international sports, of collaborating with terrorism, and linking it directly to the atrocities of Hamas, to which it provides hundreds of millions of euros per year, ostensibly for the benefit of the civil administration of the Gaza Strip.
This criticism is also heard in Germany, where Qatar is a massive investor. Qatar's sovereign wealth fund has invested in German 'institutions' such as Deutsche Bank, Volkswagen and more. The German media has called on the government to sever ties with Qatar, despite a major 15-year gas deal signed by Qatar worth tens of billions of dollars. A senior member of the German Social Democratic Party even called for Qatar to be isolated due to its support for Hamas, and allowing the organization's leaders to live comfortably and without fear in the capital Doha
But behind the scenes, reports have spread in recent days about Qatari mediation in the release of hostages. Qatar received US gratitude, after it was involved in the release of the two American hostages Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie. UK newspaper "The Guardian" reported that other leaders from Europe, among the hostages there are citizens of more than 20 countries, have called Doha, with the aim of ensuring the release of hostages holding their passports. Among them are French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Qatar has much greater diplomatic power than other Gulf countries, due to its experience as a mediator. In the current situation, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has personally discussed the issue with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a visit to Berlin. Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani personally met with the US Secretary of State in Antony Blinken, and he is also in close contact with several countries including Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Al-Ansari, who was interviewed by the Western media, is considered a "special adviser" to the foreign minister, and may be the international face of the mediation efforts.
"The priority is civilian hostages"
Qatar's diplomatic efforts on the release of hostages are led by Dr. Majed Al-Ansari, a special advisor to the Qatari foreign minister. He told the Sunday edition of German newspaper "Die Welt" that talks for the release of hostages began immediately after the Hamas attack on October 7. "Our top officials were on the phone all day and all night," he said, "Unfortunately, I cannot reveal details of the negotiations, but the release (of the two US hostages) was part of the mechanism that confirms positive intentions to release hostages. This gives us and our partners the impression that the efforts made in the last few days are bearing fruit, and that this should be continued. We are currently working on an agreement to first release all civilian hostages."
In this context, Al-Ansari added, "Of course we want all the hostages to be reunited with their families as soon as possible, but the priority is for the civilian hostages - the women, the children, those who have nothing to do with the conflict. I cannot guarantee that this will happen tomorrow, the day after or even the day after that. But we are optimistic about the fact that the hostages, especially the civilians, will be released very soon. There are major efforts underway now. Some countries are only talking to Israel, some are only talking to Hamas. We (in Qatar) are in the unique position and with the ability to talk to both sides, who I think trust us as mediators."
This is the main point that Qatar wants to convey. If in the past it has competed with Egypt in the role of mediator with Hamas, it seems that it has now taken the lead. The Egyptians convened an "emergency conference" on Saturday in Cairo, but it convened without US or Israeli participation, condemned Israel's actions in Gaza, and ended without a joint statement. In Qatar, on the other hand, they are proud of the agreements that in the past have led to the release of hostages from the Taliban, and then from ISIS, and also agreements they recently brokered for the release of Ukrainian children who were taken to Russia, as well as the thawing of $6 billion of Iranian funds in exchange for the release of US prisoners held by Tehran. "We are the only country that has mediation and negotiation as part of its national goals anchored in the constitution," Al-Ansari said in the interview.
At the moment, Qatari efforts seem to be succeeding. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warmly thanked the Qataris, saying during a recent visit to Doha, "All I can say about Qatar is that we greatly appreciate their help." Blinken refused to condemn or address the fact that Hamas leaders are staying undisturbed in Doha. US President Joe Biden himself also said publicly that the administration "thanks the government of Qatar and the government of Israel for their cooperation on this issue."
"Qatar has taken control of the mediation issue"
Dr. Moran Zaga, a researcher into the Gulf States at the University of Haifa's Mitvim Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies says, that competitiveness with Egypt and a desire to whiten its image explain Qatari attempts to both mediate and show the world that it is making its current mediation efforts.
"In every round of violence, there is a competition between Egypt and Qatar as to who leads mediation. In this current situation, Qatar seems to have taken control of the mediation issue. It is achieving this, among other things, after it was left out of the picture following the US-Saudi talks. Now it is back in the spotlight."
In addition, it says, international criticism that Qatar supported Hamas, which committed crimes against humanity, horrific murders and the reversal of public opinion against it, may cause the country to try to 'correct its image', among other things, by dealing in civilian prisoners. "If it is presented as a country that has lost control of the situation, and as one that finances crimes against humanity, it will harm its attempt to be a super mediator," she said.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 23, 2023.
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