Qatar emir proposed expelling Hamas officials in meet with Blinken days after Oct. 7

US diplomat told Thani that Doha should use its sway with terror group to free hostages in short term, but it wouldn’t be ‘business as usual’ for Hamas after war, officials tell ToI

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Khaled Mashal in Doha, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)
Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L), ruler of Qatar since 2013, in a meeting with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Khaled Mashal in Doha, October 17, 2016 (Qatar government handout)

WASHINGTON — Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani proposed expelling Hamas’s leaders from Doha during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken days after the terror group’s October 7 onslaught, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The proposal was made in somewhat of a roundabout way during the emir’s opening remarks at an October 13 closed-door meeting in Doha with Blinken. Thani began by expressing his horror over Hamas’s attack in which some 1,200 people in Israel were slaughtered and another 253 were abducted into Gaza. He then asked whether it was time for the US to ask Qatar to expel the Hamas’s leaders, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

When Blinken began his own remarks, he didn’t respond directly to the emir’s proposal but did go on to say that he thought it would be better for Qatar to use its contacts with Hamas — through the office it allowed the terror group to establish in Doha in 2012 at Washington’s behest — to mediate between the Gaza war parties to secure a hostage deal, the officials recalled. They added that the US secretary of state also clarified that it would not be “business as usual” for Hamas in Qatar once the conflict concludes.

Qatar has come under increasing pressure for what critics in the Israeli government — along with some US Republicans — say has been its refusal to lean hard enough on Hamas to agree to a hostage deal with Israel, including by threatening to oust the terror group’s leadership in Doha; and the back-and-forth in October 13 meeting revealed a more complex picture.

The US State Department declined to comment on the record, but an American source familiar with the matter said Blinken and Thani discussed the issue of Hamas’s presence in Doha and that the secretary told the emir to focus on securing the release of the hostages in the short term, adding that it wouldn’t be “business as usual with Hamas” in the long term.

The secretary repeated part of this message publicly right after the meeting with the emir. “I’ve been making it clear in all of my conversations throughout this trip that there can be no more business as usual with Hamas,” Blinken said during a press conference.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Lusail on October 13, 2023. (Jacquelyn Martin / POOL / AFP)

Commenting further on the criticism of Doha, one of the aforementioned officials argued that Hamas’s leaders are well aware that their continued stay in Qatar will be in jeopardy if the negotiations fall apart completely.

Moreover, Qatar would be prepared to expel Hamas leaders if asked by the US, the official maintained, adding that no such request has been made since the October 13 meeting.

Even if Hamas’s leaders were to be expelled, it is unclear what the impact would be, given that those hosted in Doha have spent most of their time since October 7 in Turkey where their families reside, the official divulged.

Turkey has also come under fire for hosting Hamas officials. But while Turkish authorities are said to have periodically ordered some of those members to leave the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly expressed support for the terror group.

Others in the region hold a different view regarding the role Qatar can play in the hostage negotiations. A senior Arab diplomat told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that the talks appeared to have broken through an extended logjam thanks in part to threats from Doha to expel Hamas’s leaders if they didn’t cooperate. The diplomat acknowledged that Qatar has argued that such pressure wouldn’t be effective but said that viewpoint isn’t shared by the other brokers in the negotiations.

The Qatari foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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