Handling Israel-Hamas war mediation: The role of Qatar

Handling Israel-Hamas war mediation: The role of Qatar


15 | 05 | 2024


Despite its small size and small population, the country holds significant influence in the Middle East

En la imagen

Left, 1891 map of Qatar, a Peninsula in the Persian Gulf. Right, blindfolded teddy bears covered with red blood stains, at Tel Aviv Dizengoff Square, representing the 30 children who were kidnapped by Hamas [Yossipik]

The Gaza war has given new relevance to Qatar as a mediating country in Middle East conflicts. Involved in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, Qatar aspires to diplomatically make profitable its calculated intermediate position between the most pro-Western Arab countries and the disruptive forces in the region, be they the Taliban, Iran or Hamas.

As the conflict in Palestine has progressed to eight months, diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire have intensified, with Qatar playing an important role in mediation efforts. With both sides engaged in an ongoing conflict, the international community has been actively exploring procedures for peace. Among the different actors involved, Qatar has emerged as a key negotiator.

Despite its small size and small population, Qatar holds significant influence in the Middle East. A major instance of its effective conflict resolution capacity was seen in 2000, when it brokered discussions between the US and the Taliban. Moreover, it has a history of effective mediation efforts, as seen by its involvement in brokering peace deals with Lebanon in 2008, Yemen in 2010, Darfur in 2011, and Gaza in 2012. These efforts have helped the country's reputation as a skillful peace mediator in the region. Doha tried as well to approach positions between the West and the Taliban after the US troops left Afghanistan in 2021.

Qatar has demonstrated significant progress in the ongoing conflict. In December 2023 Qatari officials played a crucial role in brokering a seven-day truce between the conflicting parties, resulting in the release of dozens of hostages. Additionally, in January 2024, it facilitated a negotiation between Hamas and Israel, with French assistance, to enable the passage of aid to hostages and to the people in Gaza, as well as humanitarian relief efforts.

A calculated position

Qatar has taken on a proactive role in mediating conflicts due to several factors, notably its relatively small size and strategic positioning. As highlighted by The Guardian, as a wealthy nation is heavily reliant on its vast reserves of natural gas, it seeks to establish itself as indispensable in the international community. Additionally, Qatar aims to ensure its security and protection from neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by actively engaging in diplomatic efforts and mediation initiatives.

Qatar's vulnerability to security risks, including military aggression and clandestine operations, was highlighted by the boycotts enforced by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia between 2017 and 2021. In context of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Doha’s calculated atitude of keeping open contact with Tehran (Qatar and Iran share the North Dom/South Pars field, the world’s largest natural gas field) caused misgivings among Arab brother countries. Doha won the arm-wrestling, but the situation stressed the necessity for the small nation to cultivate partnerships and diplomatic relations in order to dissuade possible enemies. Marking its own path, Qatar has shown no interest in following the Abrahm Accords dinamic of raprochement to Israel.

Qatar has historically provided significant financial support to Hamas, amounting to over $1.8 billion. Despite this support, Qatar did not endorse the attack on Israel on October 7, but it attributed responsibility for the situation to Israel, citing the ongoing occupation in Gaza. Qatar’s decisions are often influenced by its longstanding support for Palestine, indicating a motivation driven by a desire for de-escalation and consideration for the opinions of the Palestinian community.

Difficult negotiations

Despite its progress, Qatar has encountered scrutiny from Western nations and Israel, particularly regarding hostage negotiations. American officials have voiced concerns about Qatar’s role in negotiating the release of hostages held by Hamas. They have criticized Qatar’s Foreign Ministry for claiming progress in securing deals while also hosting individuals or groups that are considered terrorists. Qatar contends that hosting Hamas leaders is at the request of the United States.

Furthermore, the negotiation involves coming to a consensus over the release of particular groups, especially women and children, in order to promote goodwill and the development of trust between the parties involved in the dispute. To guarantee justice and openness, every detail—including the people who will be released, the logistics of the exchange, and the participation of groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross—is carefully considered.

But the negotiations are not limited to the prisoner swap. It covers a wide range of humanitarian concerns, such as talks about opening borders to let aid into impacted areas, controlling Israeli checkpoint behavior to ease the flow of people and goods, organizing relief activities, and guaranteeing military deconfliction to avoid unintentional conflicts between opposing forces.

One significant issue is that Israel is engaging in indirect negotiations with parties with which it is still in conflict, necessitating careful diplomatic handling. All sides involved in the conflict proceed cautiously, avoiding hasty concessions that could weaken their respective positions, given the high stakes involved and the potential long-term effects on the region.

President Joe Biden has initiated efforts to exert pressure on Egypt and Qatar to compel Hamas into negotiating a deal with Israel for the release of hostages. This push came in the wake of heightened tension following the murder of seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen by Israel on April 2nd, and gained track amidst the international outcry due to the Israeli operations against Rafah.

Qatari authorities have acknowledged difficulties in their attempts at negotiation, raising the possibility that an end to the fighting may not come soon. Furthermore, tensions in the area have increased due to the mutual attacks carried out by Israel and Iran. Qatar's bargaining persistence is even more important in this unstable environment.

The conclusion of Qatar's involvement in the negotiations over the Palestinian crisis highlights the complicated forces at work. Despite its best efforts, Israel and Western countries closely monitor and criticize Qatar, especially in relation to its handling of hostage negotiations and its alleged support for Hamas. Qatar, however, has demonstrated a sincere desire for de-escalation and humanitarian aid in the region by its strategic stance, diplomatic initiatives, and historical support for Palestine. Any potential advancement towards peace in Palestine will depend on Qatar's perseverance in mediating and maintaining the delicate balance between disputing sides as tensions and outside pressures continue to increase.