On My Mind: The Qatar factor

With its enormous wealth, and assertive foreign policy, Qatar could, if it desired, play a positive role.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani: His tiny country has long punched above its weight (photo credit: ASMAA WAGUIH / REUTERS)
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani: His tiny country has long punched above its weight
(photo credit: ASMAA WAGUIH / REUTERS)
Charlie Rose missed an opportunity in Doha. After flying over 6,700 miles for what PBS and CBS billed as an exclusive US media interview with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, he never asked about the contours of a Palestinian state.
During 55 minutes of conversation aired on American TV, and available at www.pbs.org, a dispassionate Mashaal repeatedly refers to Israel as the “occupier.” Toward the very end, when Rose asks if Mashaal could coexist with the State of Israel, he replies that he cannot live with the “occupier.”
And that begs the question, never posed by Rose, of what Mashaal considers to be the occupation. Is he talking about the 1947 lines or the 1967 lines? Or does he mean all of Israel plus Gaza – which Israel left in 2005 – and the West Bank? Mashaal speaks about coexisting with Jews and Christians after a Palestinian state is established, but he does not say whether Israel would exist in his configuration.
Clearly, Mashaal’s prescription for a onestate solution, that is, eliminating the internationally recognized sovereign nation of Israel, is as firm today as it was when incorporated into the Hamas Charter more than 25 years ago.
Charlie Rose’s failure to probe provides one more example of a hardened Western media personality, awestruck by the chance for a face-to-face interview with the wily Hamas leader, going soft. Four years ago, Newsweek featured a lengthy interview with Mashaal in which he was portrayed as a Hamas leader desiring peace with Israel. Then, as now, there was no exploration of how he defines the term “occupation.”
Rose missed another opportunity while he was in Doha that could have been highly illuminating for his viewers. He might have sat down with Qatar’s ruling family, which hosts Mashaal and provides Hamas’ principal financial support. Qatar adores Hamas. Two years ago, Sheikh Hamad bin-Khalifa al-Thani, then the emir of Qatar, became the first and last head of state to set foot in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Standing next to Mashaal’s counterpart in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, the emir proclaimed his support for Hamas, and he followed up with a donation for construction in Gaza.
Qatar tries to play both sides. In 2006, Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres made an official visit there and was welcomed with open arms. Tzipi Livni visited as Israel’s foreign minister in 2008. It seemed, at the time, that Qatar might be in the vanguard of the Gulf Arab states in helping facilitating peace.
But Qatar’s allegiance to Islamic fundamentalism, evident in its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and similar movements across the region, shows that the sheikhdom prefers to engage those who are hostile to Israel and peace.
In 2012, Qatar hosted the International Conference on Jerusalem, which consisted of two days of lambasting Israel for its alleged crime of “the Judaization of Jerusalem.”
The absurd, yet dangerous, myth that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem whatsoever belies Jewish religion and history. Yet, that deeply held belief across the Arab and Muslim worlds is a valuable tool for stirring up hatred of Israel and of Jews. Mashaal, the Hamas leader, asserts the same Judaization charge in the recent interview, with no challenge from Rose.
Today, Shimon Peres is one of the sheikhdom’s sharpest critics. He has publicly accused Qatar of funding Hamas rockets and terrorism, leveling that charge against his former hosts as those deadly projectiles fly from Gaza into all parts of Israel.
Qatar’s stance fundamentally challenges US policy in the region. Its authoritarian regime, its support for radical Islamist movements across the Middle East and North Africa, and its abuse of human rights contravene American ideals and values.
The US should reconsider its deferential posture towards the al-Thanis and exert some leverage on Qatar. After all, it is heavily dependent for its security on the US, which maintains important military bases in the country. Just last month Qatar announced the purchase of another $11 billion of American military equipment.
With its enormous wealth, and assertive foreign policy, Qatar could, if it desired, play a positive role. But that will not happen as long as it supports Hamas, an organization that the US, the EU and others have long designated an international terrorist organization.
The White House and State Department have not held back on pressing, sometimes very hard, allies that do share American values and goals. To defeat terrorism and advance the chances for peace, the US must be at least as firm with Qatar.
The author is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.