Middle East conflict: Qatar wants to rethink its role as mediator – politics

The mood changed at the beginning of the week. On Tuesday evening, the Qatari embassy in Washington posted a rather long statement on Platform X, where Ramadan greetings are usually sent or meetings of politicians are documented. They read “with interest” Congressman Steny Hoyer’s statements regarding the negotiations in the Gaza war, but were “surprised by his threat to reevaluate US relations with Qatar.”

US Democrat Steny Hoyer, who is even older than US President Joe Biden – namely 84 – had previously called for more pressure on Hamas, which does not want a temporary but a permanent ceasefire. As a consequence, Qatar should cut off their funding or close their offices in Doha. The Qatari embassy responded with a sardonic reprimand: Qatar’s role as mediator only exists “because we were asked by the United States to take on this role in 2012, since Israel and Hamas regrettably refuse to speak to each other directly.”

They share the frustration that no breakthrough has yet been achieved in the negotiations to free the remaining Israeli hostages. However, “blaming and threatening the mediator” is “not constructive, especially when the target is a friend and important non-NATO ally that currently hosts 10,000 US troops and is America’s largest military presence in the Middle East.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also calling for more pressure on Qatar

With this statement, which is intended to once again remind Washington of Qatar’s strategically important position, Doha responded to the increasingly loud voices in the USA. A few days earlier, Republican Ted Budd had made similar statements. Such demands also come from Israel again and again. Last but not least, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on further increasing the pressure on Qatar so that the emirate would exert more influence on Hamas.

Negotiations for a ceasefire in the Gaza war and the release of the hostages who were kidnapped in the Hamas massacre on October 7th in the Gaza Strip have been going on for months. Without success. The humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip is being criticized internationally. Qatar emphasizes that it “does not control” Hamas and that both Israel and Hamas “bear sole responsibility for reaching an agreement.” But it is questionable whether Doha has pulled out all its billion-dollar levers to increase the pressure on Hamas to release the Israeli hostages. On the other hand, the past few weeks have also shown US President Biden’s limited influence in dealing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is still pushing for the controversial offensive on the border town of Rafah.

All of this led to Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani speaking to the press in Doha on Wednesday in similar words to the elderly US Democrat Hoyer, saying that Qatar now also wanted to “completely reassess” its own role as a mediator. Press conferences are anything but daily in the hereditary monarchy of Qatar, which makes them all the more important when they do take place.

The emirate feels “used and abused”

Al-Thani, who is also the country’s foreign minister, said Qatar’s role was being “exploited and abused” by “politicians who are trying to gain electoral advantage by badmouthing the state of Qatar.” This has led Qatar to “completely reassess its role and we are currently in that phase.” Although one stands by its role “from a humanitarian context”, there are limits to this role.

Even though critical voices about Qatar’s role can often be heard from the USA, the official approach is different. Only at the beginning of the year did the US government under Biden quietly reach an agreement with Qatar, to extend its military presence at the US base in Al Udeid for another ten years. The base was built in 1996 in the Qatari desert, about 30 kilometers from the capital Doha. From here, US fighter jets took off on various missions: from 2001 to Afghanistan, 2003 to Iraq and most recently to Syria in 2014, for example to carry out air strikes against the so-called Islamic State (IS). Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Al Udeid just last December, to “expand and strengthen bilateral defense relations”. He thanked Qatar for its increased investment in the base. In times of crisis, Qatar is there for discussions, said Austin.

For the small emirate, which fell out with its neighbors in 2017, the US presence is also a kind of guarantee of existence. Qatar shares the world’s largest gas field with Iran. The sandwich position between the hostile regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia repeatedly brought Qatar into trouble. As long as the Americans maintain their largest US base in the Middle East in Qatar, the rulers in the Gulf will be of particular importance. Qatar is also reacting so harshly because such demands from the USA call this security concept into question.

It was only in 2022 that US President Joe Biden classified Qatar as an important non-NATO ally. This allows Doha to conclude arms deals and other economic deals more easily.

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