A Qatari sheikh who has become a media sensation in his home country after installing a gigantic stone replica of the World Cup soccer trophy outside his home, called Thursday for normalization with the Jewish state in an interview with Israeli media.
Hamad Al Suwaidi first found fame in the late 1980s as a race car driver. Since then he has also set up Qatar’s first peacock sanctuary, but it was the recent unveiling of a three-meter high, four-ton copy of the iconic Mondial cup that catapulted him back into the headlines recently.
Suwaidi, also an avid sculptor, commissioned the project to celebrate his country’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup next month, the first Middle Eastern country to do so.
Qatar does not recognize Israel and supports Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist terror group that controls Gaza and has fought four wars with Israel since 2008. But it is allowing Israelis to visit the country for the soccer tourney, under a deal reached via FIFA.
Suwaidi told the Kan public broadcaster in an interview broadcast Thursday that Israelis should feel welcome in Qatar and that he wants to visit Tel Aviv, calling for full normalization between the countries.
“We can’t banish Israel and Israel can’t leave,” he said from Doha. “People need to be realistic.”
Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office from 1995 to 2000, but is seen as unlikely to join other Gulf states in establishing full ties with Israel due to its relationship with Iran.
He shrugged off an expected backlash for speaking with Israeli media.
“Certainly there will be criticism, but I have done nothing wrong,” he said. “I love peace, hope that peace will spread around the world and all the wars and problems will end. You will also live in peace like me. We are tolerant peoples, thank God.”
Thousands of Israelis are expected to travel to Qatar for the World Cup tournament, which opens on November 20, despite possible security concerns surrounding visits to the country, which has close ties with both Iran and the West.
Senior Israeli officials visited Qatar for coordination talks ahead of the soccer tournament, Kan reported in September.
“Welcome to Doha, which is for everybody,” Suwaidi said in a message to Israeli travelers. “This is also their country and they will be like brothers to us.”
Regarding the sculpture, Suwaidi said it took two years to complete and the work was done in Istanbul according to his design. It cost $55,000 to make, but that doesn’t include the transportation costs, he said.
“It is not a lot,” he added.