Gilad Shalit 298 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Reports in the Palestinian press that Qatar may replace Egypt as the mediator between Hamas and Israel for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit must be seen within the context of internal Arab politics, sources in Jerusalem said Thursday.
The Palestinian Authority's Al-Ayam daily reported that Hamas had snubbed the Egyptians and indicated they would rather have a different party - possibly Qatar - mediate the talks. The sources in Jerusalem said it was not unlikely that the Qataris themselves were behind this report, eager to be seen as a significant player in the region.
According to these sources, the Qataris have a long-standing rivalry with the Saudis, and their policies must be seen within the context of this rivalry and an attempt to chart a path independent of the Saudis. Qatar currently has a strong standing in the Arab world by virtue of the fact that it is the only Arab member of the UN Security Council.
"Qatar wants to push themselves into the diplomatic process because of their competition with the Saudis," one official said. "They don't want to be seen as Saudi Arabia's little brother that blindly follows their lead."
According to the official, both Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal - who are both reportedly in Qatar at this time - have long-standing ties to the country.
Abbas lived in Qatar in the late 1950s, and still has a strong relationship with the royal family. He travels there frequently and, according to Israeli sources, "gets both moral and financial backing from them."
Mashaal, likewise, has ties to the country - he went there in 1999 after being kicked out of Jordan.
In addition to having good ties with Abbas and Hamas, the Qataris also have an open line of communication with Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has spoken by phone on a number of occasions with her Qatari counterpart, and Israel maintains a small economic interest section in Doha that the Qataris kept open even during the height of Palestinian violence.
Soon after Shalit was abducted on June 25, Qatar - along with Egypt - was involved in trying to arrange for his release. During that time, Livni and the Qatari foreign minister spoke on a number of occasions about the abduction and the situation in Gaza.