Qatar speaks from both sides of its mouth - opinion

If Washington wants to prevent further conflict in Gaza, it should let Doha know the game is up.

 US President Joe Biden meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the White House, earlier this year.  (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the White House, earlier this year.
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

United States President Joe Biden thanked the emir of Qatar this month for his role in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza. Since then, the emir and his court have been basking in the glow of international approval, depicting their country as a global influencer and peacemaker. Yet, at the same time, Doha’s incitement, through the state-owned Al Jazeera network and other channels, worsens the already explosive situation in Gaza.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic, Majed al-Ansari, the spokesperson for the Qatari Foreign Ministry, tied himself into knots while seeking to explain the contradictions of Doha’s foreign policy. First, he took credit for the ceasefire, saying that Qatar communicated with all parties involved, including “Palestinian factions in Gaza.” He paused, then added, “and with the Israeli side, also.” Ansari was clearly reluctant to admit any interaction with the Jewish state, likely because Al Jazeera and other Qatari organs spend so much time condemning those Arabs who prefer normal relations with Israel to perennial hostility.

To protect himself, Ansari quickly pivoted to Al Jazeera’s preferred talking points about Gaza and the flare-up this past weekend, when PIJ fired 800 rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory. Ansari repeatedly referred to the conflict as an example of Israeli aggression and said that Qatar denounced Israel twice, the first time for bombing Gaza, and the second time for invading al-Aqsa, a deliberate mischaracterization of Jewish worshipers passing through the Temple Mount.

One way for Doha to iron out the contradictions in its foreign policy is to broadcast different messages to Arabic speakers and English speakers. Accordingly, when Al Jazeera English played clips of Ansari’s interview, it left out his denunciations of Israel, while letting him boast of Qatar’s role as peacemaker.

Al Jazeera Arabic also did its best to pin the blame on Israel for the death of five Gazan children, even though the available evidence was more consistent with PIJ rocket fire as the cause. The network reported that five children were martyred in an Israeli airstrike on the Jabalya refugee camp but there was no source documenting the airstrike. Meanwhile, the IDF said it never targeted Jabalya and released footage apparently showing a PIJ rocket that veered off course, landing in Jabalya. The IDF released its footage a day before the Al Jazeera broadcast, yet the network ignored it.

 A general view of the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip August 10, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM) A general view of the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip August 10, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

Blood libel and martyrdom

At other times, the network simply veers into blood-libel territory. One tweet asked, “What are the roots of the genocidal Zionist doctrine?” It linked to an article on that subject that quotes violent passages from the Bible and claims the Zionist movement applies them directly to Palestinians. The article was not an exception but is rather a recurring theme in many of the articles that Al Jazeera writers post on its website.

Al Jazeera’s leading reporters also praise martyrdom, while suggesting that Palestinian militants fight for liberty, not on behalf of extreme, antisemitic interpretations of Islam. Majed Abdul-Hadi is a veteran correspondent, who won acclaim for reporting from the frontline of the US war in Afghanistan, in 2002. In a four-minute package on the clash in Gaza, he said that Sunday’s ceasefire “will not end the conflict, at least not in the minds of those [Palestinians] whose will and yearning for freedom is stronger than that of the steel” of the Israeli missiles. Abdul-Hadi added, “There are a lot of those Palestinians. They give birth, and are martyred, and give birth [again].”

The star reporter then took a swipe at Arab states, especially the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that prefer peace and normalization with Israel to endless war: “Ara brothers of the Palestinians have abandoned them and created brotherhood bonds with their enemy [Israel] and all they offer [Palestinians] is to mediate a truce or deescalate the situation to preserve regional stability.”

Against this backdrop, it is not hard to see why Ansari, the foreign ministry spokesperson, might be hesitant to admit that Doha helped broker a truce with Israel. It is also clear why Al Jazeera English conceals so much of the network’s Arabic content from its viewers.

Qatar simply speaks from both sides of its mouth and expects global accolades for its troubled thinking and troublemaking behavior. If Washington wants to prevent further conflict in Gaza, it should let Doha know the game is up.

The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute, focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow Hussain on Twitter @hahussain.