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Why is Qatar often a mediator and what is its role in Israel-Hamas war?

Why is Qatar often a mediator and what is its role in Israel-Hamas war?

Qatar is mediating a potential truce agreement between the two sides involving the release of hostages

Why does Qatar mediate in so many conflicts?

Many countries in the Middle East aspire to the role of mediators – Egypt, Oman and Kuwait among them – but Qatar presents itself as the region’s primary problem solver and advocate of dialogue. It has been active in Ukraine, Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and Gaza, in the process hosting the leadership of the Taliban and the political wing of Hamas among others.

Observers say Qatar takes on this role since as a small but fabulously wealthy country built on vast supplies of liquid gas, it needs to make itself indispensable to the international community and protected from unwelcome interventions by its larger neighbours, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The 2017-2021 boycott of Qatar led by Saudi Arabia showed it has good reasons to be fearful.

Is there opposition to its role in the Israel-Hamas conflict?

Yes, on the American right and in parts of Israel. The North Carolina Republican senator Ted Budd said on X this week: “For weeks, Qatar’s foreign ministry has claimed to ‘be close’ to negotiating a deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas – including American hostages. How long will Qatar continue to host terrorists with American blood on their hands?”

Gershon Baskin, an Israeli hostage negotiator who has dealt directly with Hamas, challenged Qatar at a recent Middle East Institute seminar. “In my mind, Qatar is a state that supports terrorism and they need to be called to order,” he said. Noting that the largest US military base in the region was in Qatar, he said: “The Americans need to tell Qatar: if you don’t force Hamas to release hostages, you are going to exile them from Qatar.”

Baskin is one of those who think Egyptian intelligence has better lines into Hamas than Qatar, and Qatar does not have the same lines into Israeli intelligence. Such criticism puts a lot of pressure on Qatar to deliver, both to show its independence from Hamas and its effectiveness. Indeed, the surprise statement on Sunday by the Qatari prime minister that Qatar was close to a deal may have reflected a need to challenge the gathering scepticism of Qatar in the US Congress.

Qatar argues that some its critics misunderstand why it hosts Hamas’s political leaders – which is not so much out of ideological sympathy but because the US has asked it to.

It is argued that its role is distinct from the technical role that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) can undertake and the message-carrying role that Switzerland undertakes for the US in Tehran. It requires a degree of political trust, knowledge and political sensitivity. Just as the US does not mount much public criticism of Israel, neither does Qatar of Hamas. The precondition of influence sometimes is discretion.

Where does Qatar stand on the conflict?

Qatar does not endorse the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October but says the responsibility lies with Israel due to the occupation. At a recent Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit, it was arguing for tougher messages than condemnation of Israel, and since then it has accused Israel of genocide, breaches of the Geneva conventions and massacres. It has also laid into what it sees as double standards on the part of some in the international community.

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