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Qatari Envoy to US Says Normalizing Ties With Israel First Requires Two-State Solution

By Nisan Ahmado September 16, 2020

Qatar has no objection to normalizing ties with Israel if "the conditions are proper" and there is a commitment to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, Qatar's ambassador to Washington Sheikh Meshal Bin Hamad Al-Thani told VOA.

"Qatar is part of the Arab Peace Initiative. We believe in a two-states solution for the Palestinians and in securing Israel's borders, and if these conditions are fulfilled, then we don't see any reason for Qatar to not normalize relations with Israel," said Al-Thani.

The Arab Peace Initiative is a Saudi-brokered plan that was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 to end the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Initiative offered to normalize relations with Israel and provide security for all states in the region in exchange for Israel's full withdrawal from lands captured since 1976 and a statehood deal with the Palestinians.

The ambassador's comments come as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain officially normalized relations with Israel during a signing ceremony Tuesday hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the "Abraham Accords" an opening for more such agreements.

"This peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately can end the Arab-Israeli conflict, once and for all," said Netanyahu.

Qatar's foreign minister, Lolwah al-Khater, told Bloomberg Monday that her country was not joining the other two Arab states to establish diplomatic ties with Israel because "we don't think that normalization was the core of this conflict and hence it can't be the answer."

Despite ruling out complete normalization with Israel, Al-Thani told VOA that Qatar continues to mediate negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and it sends humanitarian relief to Gaza in coordination with Israel and the U.N.

"Qatar and the U.S. have been working together for many years on regional issues and we were mediating at the request of the U.S. administration, therefore we were talking with Hamas to encourage it to engage in political negotiations," he said.

Mediation efforts

Last month, Israel said it attacked Hamas targets in southern Gaza following a barrage of incendiary balloon attacks from the strip into Israel. In a sign of further escalation, the Israeli authorities also closed the fishing zone off the coast of Gaza and the main commercial border crossing Karem Abu Salem, or Karem Shalom.

The tension began to ease, however, when Qatar brokered a cease-fire Aug. 31 between Israel and Hamas. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, in a tweet following the truce, thanked Qatari special envoy Mohammed al-Emadi for his direct involvement to stop the escalation.

According to al-Emadi, the cease-fire included an increase of monthly aid allocated to stop the spread of Coronavirus in Gaza. He told Al-Araby TV that Israeli authorities also agreed to supply Gaza's power plant with natural gas and grant entry to 7,000 Gaza workers into Israel.

Officials in Washington say they acknowledge Qatar's role in helping soothe the rift between Israel and the Palestinian militants.

"Qatar plays an invaluable role in helping stabilize Gaza, as well as regional efforts to de-escalate tensions both in Syria and in Lebanon," said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue summit Monday in Washington.

Balancing act

Some experts say Qatar could play a key role in bringing both sides of the conflict together due to its relations with Israel and Hamas. They say while establishing diplomatic ties with Israel is important, it could damage Qatar's influence on the Islamist group.

"They work closely with the Israelis, and they have humanitarian relief initiatives particularly in Gaza. Normalizing relationships make it difficult for them to work with Hamas, and, therefore, I think neither the Israelis nor the Qataris would see this as a kind of a step in the right direction as a good initiative," said Amb. Gerald M. Feierstein, senior vice president for the Middle East Institute and former U.S. diplomat.

Feierstein said strained ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia are yet another reason that normalization between Qatar and Israel may not happen soon. The U.S. government, according to him, is unwilling to use its leverage to push Qatar closer to Israel as such a move could "complicate their abilities to get the Saudis to go along."

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain in June 2017 imposed an abrupt trade-and-travel blockade on Qatar, accusing their fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members of fueling terrorism by supporting Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and maintaining relations with Iran. The relations have since remained in a standoff.

Financial role

Qatar is not the first county that has attempted to mediate between the two warring sides. Various third parties, including the U.N., U.S., EU, Egypt and Turkey, have attempted to broker a deal to end decades of conflict.

While others have largely failed in their recent efforts, Qatar's success is mainly due to its financial role in Gaza, said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow and director of the Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute.

"They are supplying basically cash to the people of Gaza to help offset the extremely difficult conditions brought on by the economic blockade," Elgindy said.

He indicated the financial aid is helping release some of the pressure on Gaza residents who have been suffering since the 2007 blockade by Israel. Elgindy said achieving long-term stability, though, will come with the lifting of the blockade.

Qatar established the Gaza Reconstruction Committee in 2012 to provide humanitarian assistance and cash stipends for various projects to Palestinian residents. It announced earlier this year $150 million in assistance to the strip, including aid to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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