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How Qatar Became the Middle East’s Indispensable Mediator

How Qatar Became the Middle East’s Indispensable Mediator

The person who holds the key to the Middle East’s extraordinary hostage crisis is neither Israeli nor Palestinian, but rather the young and taciturn ruler of Qatar. Since taking power 10 years ago, the 43-year-old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been hellbent on positioning his tiny country—one of the world’s richest, with the third-largest gas reserves and sixth-highest per-capita income—as a player in global geopolitics. He has mostly failed to achieve the stature he craves, even after hosting the soccer World Cup and solicitous European officials cut off from their once-reliable Russian gas supplies.

The war between Israel and Hamas—a group indebted to Qatar—has handed Thani an opportunity to attain a profile higher than any other Arab leader in a long time. He is in a unique position to help safely deliver more than 200 hostages. Unlike his neighbors in the region, he isn’t worried about an uprising or a challenge to his rule from political Islamists. Instead, he hosts Islamist militant groups including Hamas, alongside a trade office for Israel and thousands of American troops at the Al Udeid Air Base, from which the United States routinely carries out operations in the region.

There is no doubt that Thani’s sympathies lie with the Palestinians. His foreign ministry “solely” blamed Israel for Hamas’s attack and has not once condemned the brutality. And yet Doha’s sway over Hamas might be the only hope for families desperate for a reunion with their abducted sons, daughters, grandparents, and other loved ones.

In 2012, as war raged in Syria and Hamas’s leadership opposed the Syrian government, Doha provided it with shelter. Qataris said the decision was taken in coordination with the United States and with the blessing of then-U.S. President Barack Obama. Hamas owes Qatar not just for offering refuge to its leaders and providing a base to plan and parley with its Iranian patrons, but also for millions of dollars in annual foreign aid, which help the poor in Gaza, pays for electricity—and also allegedly bankroll Hamas’s bureaucracy.

Thus far, Qatar has managed to convince Hamas to release four captives, all women. “We remain hopeful with regard to the hostage situation,” Majed Al Ansari, the official spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, told Foreign Policy. “There has been some progress and breakthroughs on the negotiations, especially if we compare where we started with where we are right now.”

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