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Qatari foreign minister rules out normalization with Israel

Al-Thani says his country will maintain ‘working relationship’ in order to aid Palestinians, but formal relations unlikely with no ‘commitment’ to two-state solution

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani looks on during a news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken following a signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP)
Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani looks on during a news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken following a signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP)

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Wednesday ruled out the possibility that the Gulf state will normalize relations with Israel.

Al-Thani told the Axios news site in an interview that although Doha had previously maintained ties with Israel “when there were prospects for peace” with the Palestinians, it “lost hope” after the 2008-2009 Gaza war.

He said that Qatar would continue what it called its “working relationship” to help the Palestinians, but that it seemed to him unrealistic to enter into an agreement with Israel like the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain “in the absence of a real commitment to a two-state solution.”

With Israel’s approval, Qatar since 2018 has periodically provided millions of dollars in cash to Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, fund infrastructure projects, and provide aid to tens of thousands of Gazan families.

Doha was also contributing to the salaries of some 50,000 employees of the Hamas-run government up until the latest flareup with Israel in May, by sending suitcases of cash into the territory through Israel.

Israel’s new government, which was sworn in the following month, vowed to stop that arrangement.

A Palestinian man receives financial aid at a supermarket in Gaza City on September 15, 2021, as part of the UN’s Humanitarian Cash Assistance program, supported by the state of Qatar. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

With nuclear talks between the West and Iran still on hold, Al-Thani said that Qatar was working hard to “bridge any gaps” in indirect negotiations between Washington and Tehran, adding that he was “very concerned” about negotiations ending in failure, and that “we don’t want to see a nuclear race in our region.”

Qatar’s position as a regional diplomatic intermediary has caused tensions with its neighbors, due to its connections with Iran and with extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.

Angered over this, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar in mid-2017, sealing their airspace to Qatari flights, shuttering Qatar’s only land border and expelling Qatari citizens. The move pushed Qatar closer to Turkey and Iran, which rushed to support the tiny-but-wealthy nation as it navigated the diplomatic assault.

In this photo released by Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, center left, is greeted by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani upon his arrival at Doha airport in Qatar late Dec. 8, 2021 (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

The regional standoff concluded earlier this year with an agreement signed by Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, Qatar did not give into a list of demands the quartet had made, including that it shutter its Al Jazeera news channel and hand over wanted Islamists residing in exile.

Qatar has also become a closer ally to the US, with President Joe Biden announcing last year he would designate the Gulf state as one of 17 major non-NATO allies, entitling the country to special benefits in defense trade and security cooperation.

This move was seen by many as a shift from his predecessor’s administration, which favored Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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