Qatar burnishes role as ‘essential’ hostage negotiator with Israel-Hamas deal

Agreement is the latest diplomatic coup by emirate that has positioned itself as key link between West and radical entities

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani at a hotel during a day of meetings, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, November 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/ Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani at a hotel during a day of meetings, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, November 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/ Pool Photo via AP)

The emirate of Qatar has further boosted its status as a specialist power in resolving delicate hostage situations by using its influence to help secure the release some of the hostages kidnapped by Palestinian terror group Hamas during its October 7 devastating assault on Israel.

Analysts say Qatar has honed a careful balancing act, allowing it to maintain warm relations with Western powers, while keeping ties with radical groups and states regarded as pariahs even by close allies.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari told AFP that the breakthrough deal on Wednesday morning that will see a pause in hostilities underlined the country’s singular diplomatic position.

“This is what we can do that nobody else can do and this is us using all of our abilities,” he said. “We’ve geared the whole country toward this. If it doesn’t work, all hell will break loose.”

Israel says 240 people — Israelis, dual nationals and foreigners — were abducted by Hamas terrorists when they launched the deadliest attacks in Israel’s 75-year history on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

In retaliation, Israel launched a military campaign including a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, aimed at toppling Hamas, which has ruled the Palestinian enclave since 2007.

A man and a child walk past portraits of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 onslaught by Hamas, in Tel Aviv on November 21, 2023, during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

An Israeli government official briefing reporters on Tuesday said the deal was expected to see the release of 50 living Israeli citizens — children, mothers and other women — in groups of 12-13 people over four days. In exchange, Israel has agreed to a truce for those four days, for the first time since the outbreak of the war, as well as the release of 150 teenage and female Palestinian security prisoners. The halt in fighting could be extended by one additional day for each additional group of 10 hostages freed, after which Israel’s campaign to destroy Hamas in Gaza is to resume.

Mossad chief David Barnea was in Doha on Wednesday to meet with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani to discuss final details of the hostage deal slated to go into place Thursday morning. Al Thani is also the Qatari foreign minister.

The West is increasingly using the influence of the small but gas-rich Gulf Arab state ruled by Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in these situations, with the role of Qatar also crucial to the release in September of five Americans held by Iran.

While Egypt has traditionally in recent years served as the main mediator between Israel and Palestinian groups, and Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also made no secret of its desire to be involved, the focus was on Qatar helping to return hostages safely.


Behind the scenes, Qatar was triangulating between Israel and Hamas and Qatari ambassadors had met with the families of hostages around the world, Ansari said.

“They know that there are children, there are women, there are families that are suffering every day, from the lack of information from the fact that they don’t know what is happening with their family members right now. So it’s a renewed sense of duty on us,” he said.

Mossad chief David Barnea speaks at a conference at Reichman University on September 10, 2023. (Screenshot)

Qatar has hosted Hamas’s political office for more than 10 years, but is also home to the largest US military base in the region.

“Qatar has an advantage that the other candidates for negotiation do not have: It has housed the political leadership of Hamas” for the last decade, said Hasni Abidi, director of the Geneva-based Center for Studies and Research on the Arab World and the Mediterranean.

That is the only entity authorized to negotiate on behalf of Hamas and the Islamist movement’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Abidi added.

Qatari money has helped Hamas pay the salaries of its civil servants, while the current emir’s father and predecessor Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani even visited Gaza in 2012.

But the position is not without potential pitfalls for the Gulf state. Two weeks into the conflict in Gaza, the US cautioned its ally that there could be “no more business as usual with Hamas.”

In 2017, Qatar’s neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia, imposed a three-year diplomatic and economic blockade on the tiny emirate, demanding it cut ties with Hamas and the Palestinian terrorists’ parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as downgrade ties with Iran.

Palestinians receive their financial aid as part of an aid allocated by Qatar, at a post office in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 27, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90/File)

Taliban office

The first glimmer of hope for the release of the Gaza-held hostages came in October when US hostages Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan were released and returned to Israel.

After that release, French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Qatar’s “very important role.” Two more Israelis were subsequently released. An Israeli soldier was also rescued by security forces.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder on Wednesday offered Doha the body’s “profound gratitude… for their significant role in facilitating the impending release.”

It was with Qatar that $6 billion of frozen Iranian funds from South Korean banks was parked pending the release in a hugely complex and sensitive swap deal of the five American citizens held by Iran.

The emirate had invited the Taliban to open an office in Doha with the approval of the United States, making it possible to negotiate the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in 2021.

IDF soldiers operating in the northern Gaza Strip in a handout photo released for publication on November 22, 2023. (IDF)

Qatar also played a role in the release in 2013 of a Swiss teacher kidnapped in Yemen and in the release of hostages in Mali the same year.

Most recently, on October 16, while all eyes were on Gaza, Qatar announced that it had repatriated Ukrainian children, who had been abducted by Russia during the invasion.

In its work, Qatar has now largely overshadowed Egypt, which helped secure the 2011 release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after he was held by Hamas for more than five years. Shalit was exchanged for over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners held by Israel.

“It is precisely the accumulation of these successful mediations which has also made Qatar an essential interlocutor,” said Abidi.

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