Since the start of the war, Qatar has been playing a proactive role in brokering a deal between Israel and Hamas to exchange hostages in return for a ceasefire. However, Qatar is also one of Hamas’ largest political and financial patrons. Hence, any commendation of Qatar should be read with a grain of salt.
The Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza and the United Nations’ Response
Amid the relentless Israel-Hamas conflict, which has now surpassed 50 days, the prospect of complete de-escalation appears elusive. Disturbingly, the plight of Gazan civilians continues to worsen, with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) issuing a stark warning highlighting an imminent risk of starvation, as only a meager 10 percent of essential food supplies are reaching the region. Compounding the crisis is the strained healthcare sector, with Gaza’s hospitals on the brink of collapse. Severe bed shortages force medical professionals to treat patients on floors, resorting to manual procedures due to dwindling medical supplies. While global leaders endeavor to find diplomatic solutions, the international community’s response remains disheartening.
The latest development was the approval by the Israeli government of a 4-day pause during which 50 women and children would be freed by Hamas, and humanitarian aid will also gain access to Gaza. The Israeli government said it would extend the lull by an additional day for every 10 hostages released. As part of this deal, 150 Palestinians would also be released from Israeli jails. Both sides confirmed the agreement following an all-night meeting facilitated by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States. The pause was subsequently extended by an additional two days.
We should note that this will be the first pause in the ongoing bombardment, and arriving at a consensus has been difficult thus far. On November 15th, 2023, the UN Security Council was also successful in passed a resolution advocating for the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas and the establishment of urgent humanitarian corridors in Gaza. This marked a positive turn after four failed attempts the previous month in which the United States vetoed a Brazil-drafted resolution, Russia and China vetoed a US-drafted resolution, and two Russian-drafted resolutions failed to secure the minimum nine “yes” votes.
The November 15th resolution garnered 12 affirmative votes, with none against and three abstentions (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The US abstained due to the resolution’s failure to condemn Hamas, reflecting Israel’s stance. Brett Jonathan Miller, Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative, criticized the resolution for focusing solely on Gaza’s humanitarian situation without addressing the events leading up to the crisis.
In contrast, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, contended that the Security Council should have called for a ceasefire. The UK, like the US, abstained due to the resolution’s lack of explicit Hamas condemnation, while Russia, like the State of Palestine, abstained over its omission of a ceasefire reference.
But this victory was largely symbolic. Despite the legally binding nature of UN Security Council resolutions, they often face practical disregard, as seen with Israel’s past dismissal of resolutions, notably in 2016 which called for an end to all settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem
Later, on October 26, 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution on Gaza, urging an “immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce” between Israeli forces and Hamas. Sponsored by Jordan, this resolution passed with 120 votes in favor, 14 against, and 45 abstentions. Israel criticized the resolution, questioning the very legitimacy of the UN. This underscores growing concerns about the organization’s efficacy, particularly its inability to rein in Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. While the UN has a largely positive global image, Russia’s use of its veto power in the UN Security Council to obstruct resolutions pertaining to the Russia-Ukraine war has limited the UN’s ability to address the conflict. This has led to increased distrust in the institution.
As diplomatic challenges intensify amid shifting alliances, the task of finding effective ways to address conflicts becomes increasingly complex. Even the four-day truce is temporary. Following the announcement of the truce, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said categorically that Israel would resume the war after the truce and keep fighting until all hostages were released, and Hamas was defeated. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has understandably shifted alliances, including Israel’s allies, whose initial steadfast support for Israel has now weakened.
Each passing day, marked by little to no permanent diplomatic solution, puts more Palestinian lives at risk and keeps Israeli hostages in limbo.
Qatar’s Mediation Efforts and Controversial Alliances
In this evolving landscape, a more proactive role from actors in the Middle East, specifically Qatar, is imperative in ensuring that Israel and Hamas arrive at some kind of long-term consensus. Qatar has played a significant role in brokering peace in the past, which is why their intervention this time around should come as no surprise. However, a 4 day pause is not enough.
Qatar is one of the world’s most prominent hostage-situation mediators in the world and is a key regional ally of the United States. In 2022, the U.S. State Department issued a press release praising Qatar as an active partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and in countering violent extremism. Since 9/11, hostage-taking has become an increasingly prominent component of modern warfare and in response to this trend, Qatar emerged as a neutral party and a go-to mediator in the Middle East. Notably, Qatar hosts the Al-Udeid airbase, which is the largest U.S. military facility in the region, along with the U.S. Combat Operations Air Center for the Middle East. Simultaneously, Qatar maintains open lines of communication and, in some cases, direct relationships with terrorist groups opposing the very troops stationed in these military bases. This strategic position has allowed Qatar to foster dialogue between conflicting parties and facilitating diplomatic initiatives in the region.
Since the start of the war, Qatar has been playing a proactive role in brokering a deal between Israel and Hamas to exchange hostages in return for a ceasefire—. However, Qatar is also one of Hamas’ largest political and financial patrons. Publicly reported annual support to Hamas from Qatar ranges from $120 million to $480 million, depending on the year and information source, as reported by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Hamas continues to maintain its main office in Doha, where leaders Ismail Haniyeh, Moussa Abu Marzuk, and Khaled Mashal enjoy a luxurious lifestyle while over 2 million residents of Gaza City live in abject poverty. This, despite the United States praising Qatar for “demonstrated its commitment to combat the financing of terrorism through efforts to support U.S. sanctions, compliance with international sanctions, and participation in multilateral fora”
What explains this dichotomy? How does Qatar simultaneously finance terror and fight it?
Simply put, it is part of Qatar’s diplomatic strategy.
Doha is often been called the “the Geneva of the Middle East,” and Emir al-Thani’s image as a peacemaker has, over the years, gained global repute. This is why Qatar’s response to the October 7 terrorist attack was expectedly neutral. Doha’s statement held Israel responsible for the escalating violence and called on both sides to show restraint, urging the international community to prevent Israel from using the incursion as a justification for warfare against civilians in Gaza. Qatar intentionally did not condemn Hamas for it was part of its diplomatic strategy. Despite its neutral stance, however, Qatar continues to engage with various regional and international actors, including high-ranking officials in Egypt, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the UAE, and the U.S., to keep open channels of communication that may eventually help facilitate an end to the ongoing crisis in Gaza. This is how Qatar plays its delicate balancing act.
However, Qatar’s approach is not without its detractors. Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has criticized Qatar’s moderate diplomatic approach, calling it “misplaced, misinformed, and dangerously naïve.” After all, Without Qatari patronage, Hamas’s governance of Gaza would have become untenable by now and its popularity among Palestinians would have subsequently collapsed. Qatar is, after all, a state sponsor of Hamas and it’s playing an extremely dangerous game of placating to both sides without actually taking a decisive position. It is absurd, and quite frankly, detestable that the same country that espouses continued support for Hamas’s terror activities simultaneously maintains a façade of trying to harbor peace. This delicate balancing act should raise legitimate concerns among regional and global actors, especially those in the West, as it poses a potential threat to the stability of the region and undermines efforts for lasting peace in the Israel-Hamas conflict. After all, Qatar’s true intentions are not clear at all and if push comes to shove, who would Qatar side with if they had to choose a side? Hamas or Israel? It is quite unclear what they would do, but given Qatar’s close ties with Hamas, it would be imprudent to rule out Hamas support completely.
A Dangerous Diplomatic Tight Rope
As it stands today, Qatar wields enormous influence over both the United States and Israel on one hand, and the Palestinian people on the other. Qatar’s diplomatic prowess will ultimately determine the fate of thousands of Palestinians besieged by Israel’s daily offensive; which is why global superpowers, especially the West need to adopt a firmer stance with Qatar and exert maximum pressure until every hostage is released without preconditions. Once achieved, sustained pressure should be applied until Qatari support to Hamas is terminated. This could involve designating Qatar as a state sponsor of terrorism, imposing sanctions, and freezing assets under U.S. jurisdiction. Ironically, the same actions that the US praised Qatar for are what may be needed to weed out terrorism from Qatar. Qatar holds questionable alliances with not just Hamas but also other jihadist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood branches in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, as well as Brotherhood/Islamist dissidents from neighboring Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. These friendships have not only caused consternation among Saudi and Emirati officials but have also undermined Qatar’s own soft power credentials.
As scholar Lina Khatib, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the SOAS Middle East Institute, points out, Qatari foreign policy reveals the delicate balance between trying to maintain internal and regional Gulf stability and striving to hold broader global political influence. Qatar’s foreign policy is far-reaching; however, it appears not to be based on a cohesive political strategy and is instead, reactive, which is why it is not long-lasting. As far as Qatar’s mediation efforts are concerned, although Qatari mediation has been typically hailed as a success, a closer look reveals that its effects are also short term.
A good instance of this was The Emir of Qatar’s historic visit to Gaza in 2012, marking the first such visit by an Arab head of state to the Hamas-controlled area, and carrying plans for investment as well as renewed hopes for reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. This visit sought to lay the foundation stone of an investment project aiming to build 1,000 homes for poor families in the devastated Khan Younis area in the south of the Strip. Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh also thanked the Emir “for his brave decision to visit Gaza.” But was this really brave? Given that Qatar already supports around $30 million per month to Hamas, a pittance of which ultimately goes back to Gazans. Didier Billion, deputy director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), astutely pointed out “Doha’s money is therefore the equivalent of direct support for this organization which has held the Palestinian enclave with an iron fist for many years.” Either way, the limits of Qatar’s humanitarian interventions and foreign aid quickly became apparent following a renewed Israeli attack on Gaza in late 2012, just weeks after the Emir’s visit. In view of these developments, Qatar’s impact in those regions can be seen as enjoying only a temporary, rather than a long-term, boost.
Despite Qatar’s championing of democracy in the Arab world, the country remains without an independent legislature or political parties, and it does not have independent civil society organizations. Thus, any sign of peace coming from Qatar should be read with a grain of salt. While a 4-day pause is a welcome relief for the hundreds of Palestinians under siege in Gaza, one must not forget the larger context of how they were impoverished in the first place—by the twin forces of Israeli occupation and Hamas corruption, and Qatar does not get to wipe its hands off clean.
The international community must navigate the delicate balance between Qatar’s mediation efforts and its support for groups like Hamas while simultaneously asserting a firm stance—pressuring Qatar to facilitate the immediate release of all hostages and terminate its backing of Hamas to ensure there is hope for long-standing peace in the region. The evolving nature of the war requires a proactive role from all regional actors, and Qatar must ensure its first and foremost priority is alleviating the humanitarian crisis in West Asia.
Please note that all views expressed are personal.