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Qatar burnishes role as ‘essential’ hostage negotiator with Israel-Hamas deal

The emirate of Qatar has further boosted its status as a specialist power in resolving delicate hostage situations by using its influence to help secure the release of hostages by Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Analysts say Qatar has honed a careful balancing act, allowing it to marry warm relations with Western powers while keeping ties with radical groups and states regarded as pariahs even by close allies.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari told AFP the breakthrough ceasefire deal on Wednesday morning had underlined the country’s singular diplomatic position.

“This is what we can do that nobody else can do and this is us using all of our abilities,” he said.

“We’ve geared the whole country towards this. If it doesn’t work, all hell will break loose.” The West is increasingly using the influence of the small but gas-rich Gulf Arab state ruled by Emir Tamim ben Hamad Al-Thani in these situations, with the role of Qatar also crucial to the release in September of five Americans held by Iran.

While Egypt has traditionally in recent years served as the main mediator between Israel and Palestinian groups, and Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also made no secret of its desire to be involved, the focus was on Qatar helping to return hostages safely.

Behind the scenes, Qatar was triangulating between Israel and Hamas and Qatari ambassadors had met with the families of hostages around the world, Ansari said.

“They know that there are children, there are women, there are families that are suffering every day, from the lack of information from the fact that they don’t know what is happening with their family members right now. So it’s a renewed sense of duty on us,” he said. Qatar has hosted Hamas’s political office for more than 10 years but is also home to the largest US military base in the region.

“Qatar has an advantage that the other candidates for negotiation do not have: it has housed the political leadership of Hamas” for the last decade, said Hasni Abidi, director of the Geneva-based Center for Studies and Research on the Arab World and the Mediterranean. Qatari money has helped Hamas pay the salaries of its civil servants, while the current emir’s father and predecessor Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani even visited Gaza in 2012.

It is the only entity that is authorised to negotiate on behalf of Hamas and the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Abidi added.

But the position is not without potential pitfalls for the Gulf state. Two weeks into the conflict in Gaza, the US cautioned its ally that there could be “no more business as usual with Hamas”.

In 2017, Qatar’s neighbours, led by Saudi Arabia, imposed a three-year diplomatic and economic blockade on the tiny emirate, demanding it cut ties with Hamas and the Palestinian militants’ parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as downgrade ties with Iran.

Israel says 240 people — Israelis, dual nationals and foreigners — were abducted by Hamas gunmen when they launched the deadliest attacks in Israel’s 75-year history. At least 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, according to the government.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children. The first glimmer of hope came in October when US hostages Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan were released and returned to Israel.

Delphine Touitou, "Qatar burnishes role as ‘essential’ hostage negotiator with Israel-Hamas deal," Business recorder. 2023-11-23.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Ghaza conflict , Hamas government , Tayyip Erdogan , Abidi , Gaza Strip , Gulf state , Arab state , Emirates , Qatar , Egypt

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