With Trump defeated, Qatar reverts to anti-normalisation rhetoric

Despite its proclaimed opposition to normalisation, Qatar has had extensive and undeclared political contacts, as well as financial and commercial transactions, with Israel.
Tuesday 17/11/2020
A file photo of Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, September 12, 2020. (REUTERS)
A file photo of Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, September 12, 2020. (REUTERS)

DOHA – Just days after preliminary US election results showed that incumbent President Donald Trump had no path to victory, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani assailed Arab states’ normalisation with Israel, in the Qatari state’s first direct condemnation of the moves.

In statements made to the online Global Security Forum, the Qatari foreign minister said Arab states that establish ties with Israel are undermining Palestinians’ efforts to achieve statehood, but that it was within their sovereign right to do so.

Three Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – have set aside hostilities with Israel in recent months to agree to formal relations in deals brokered by the Trump administration.

Palestinian leaders have accused them of betrayal, while US and Israeli officials have said more Arab states could soon follow.

“I think it’s better to have a united (Arab) front to put the interests of the Palestinians (first) to end the (Israeli) occupation,” the Qatari foreign minister said.

He said division would not help Arab efforts to get the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians and resolve the decades-long conflict between them.

However, for the states who established ties, “it is up to them at the end of the day to decide what is best for their countries,” he said.

Despite its proclaimed opposition to normalisation, Qatar has had extensive and undeclared political contacts, as well as financial and commercial transactions, with Israel since an Israeli commercial office opened in Doha in 1996. The Qatar-financed Al-Jazeera TV channel was a trend-setter in the region in inviting Israeli officials to appear on its programmes.

In early November, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Qatar was among countries slated to establish relations with Israel under Trump’s drive for regional rapprochement.

However, now that the Trump administration is in its last days, Qatar has apparently decided to trade horses in the middle of the stream and revert to its old policy of exploiting the Palestinian cause to play on Arab and Muslim sentiments while inciting against its regional foes.

In his recent statements, the Qatari foreign minister admitted that Doha maintains some ties with Israel. However, he claimed these relations are only concerns matters involving the Palestinians, such as humanitarian needs or development projects.

Qatar, which also has relations with two of Israel’s bitter enemies — Iran and the Palestinian militant group Hamas — supports a two-state solution to the conflict that would establish East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state, a stance the foreign minister reiterated.

The UAE, Bahrain and Sudan broke with decades of Arab policy that had demanded Israel first cede land to the Palestinians to form their own state before establishing relations.

Emirati officials have said the Gulf state remains committed to Palestinian statehood, and that its deal with Israel had stopped further annexation of lands Palestinians seek for a state.

Until this year, Israel had formal relations with just two Arab states – its neighbours Egypt and Jordan – established under peace deals reached decades ago.