The Unlikely Peacemaker

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Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani recently met in Poland with top-level officials from the Israeli spy agency Mossad and the US Central Intelligence Agency to secure the release of Israeli hostages whom Hamas currently holds in Gaza, reported Reuters.

These negotiations were part of ongoing talks between the two sides as violence engulfed the Gaza Strip following the Hamas massacre in Israel on Oct. 7. Qatari diplomats managed to pull off the successful ceasefire that existed between Israel and Hamas in late November, the Associated Press noted. They also persuaded Egypt, Hamas, and Israel to release hostages and allow foreign nationals to exit Gaza, CNN explained.

Qatar also helped persuade Russian officials to release four Ukrainian children between the ages of two to 17, added the Washington Post.

These efforts all underscore Qatar’s surprising and important diplomatic role in recent years in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Key to Qatar’s success is being able to maintain contacts with the US and other Western countries – the largest US air base in the Middle East is in Qatar – while also retaining links to those who are blacklisted, such as Hamas, the Taliban, and the mullahs who control Iran.

“(Qatar) has accomplished something of a geopolitical miracle,” wrote Oilprice.com. “It has overcome extraordinary odds to become the most trusted mediator in the region by both sides of the geopolitical divide – the US and its allies on the one side, and the China-Russia axis and its allies on the other.”

Perhaps most impressively, the Persian Gulf emirate has risen in prominence despite its diplomatic isolation between 2017 and 2021 due to sour relations with Saudi Arabia, a situation that led the country to withdraw from OPEC in 2018. Qatar’s role as one of the top three exporters of natural gas in the world – this commodity has become vital as energy prices have spiked due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – has likely bolstered its position in this regard.

Analysts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, widely considered to be a pro-Israeli advocacy group, questioned whether Israel and the US can trust a country that retains links to Islamic jihadists like Hamas. For years, Qatar has been criticized in the West for financially supporting groups that are designated as terror organizations. The leaders of Hamas are hosted opulently in the Gulf kingdom and have an office there. And its close ties to Iran and support for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood led its neighbors in the region to shut it out in 2017.

It certainly has played a dominant role in Gaza, financing much of the civilian infrastructure in the enclave and controlling the media megaphone of the Al Jazeera network broadcasting in Arabic and English, the dominant news network in the region.

Meanwhile, an opinion column in Middle East Monitor, which is widely regarded as pro-Palestinian, portrayed Qatar’s outsized role in regional diplomacy as taking a new path to building peace.

Irrespective of one’s opinion, one thing is for sure, the Washington Times wrote: Qatar will almost certainly have an outsized say in the new order – or chaos — in the Middle East.

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