“Even before this most recent war between Israel and Hamas, the very tiny, very rich Gulf state had carved out a bit of a reputation as a diplomatic broker, especially in hostage negotiations. This has been a deliberate gambit on Qatar’s part, which has cultivated and managed pragmatic ties with the region’s main players — becoming a kind of middle man between parties that otherwise do not get along. It’s a key US ally, hosting an American military base critical to US operations in places like Syria and Iraq. Qatar also has ties to Islamist groups, including Hamas, whose political arm has an office in Doha.
This has given Qatar leverage — and, most importantly, access. The United States and Israel do not negotiate directly with Hamas. That has made the Qataris an indispensable go-between. “You have to talk to Hamas to get anything done,” said F. Gregory Gause, professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. “The Qataris are there to help you out — and they’re there to remind you that they’re helping you out.”
Qatar’s role in this conflict extends beyond this week’s deal. In late October, Qatar helped negotiate the release of a couple hostages held by Hamas, and it may be helping to tamp down a wider regional conflict, given its good relations with Iran and open channels with the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah. Qatar played a role in mediating the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, and has supported Gaza, including financing salaries for Hamas civil servants through the sale of fuel to the group — with the okay of Israel, in part because Israel saw it as a stabilizing measure.
Qatar’s diplomacy isn’t limited to the realm of Israel-Hamas, either. Qatar served as an intermediary between the US and the Taliban before the two ultimately negotiated a peace deal directly, in Doha. Qatar’s open lines with the Taliban helped facilitate evacuations from Afghanistan after Kabul’s fall in 2021, and even after. And Qatar has increasingly become known for its skill in hostage negotiations, even outside the region. It recently helped broker a deal to get Russia to return four Ukrainian kids to their families.
“It wants to be influential, diplomatically, and it does understand that, obviously, it’s not a regional superpower that can dictate things,” said Bessma Momani, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo. Yet maintaining these delicate ties — and working those connections — is a very good way for Qatar to advance its interests, and its security. That approach comes with some risks, but, at least right now, they don’t outweigh the upsides for Qatar.
Qatar finds “a way to be helpful and resourceful in specific, niche areas that can have outsized influence,” Momani said. “That’s their strategy.””
“Biden administration officials are increasingly at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over how it is conducting its military assault on Hamas and how the two countries envision the political future of Gaza, current and former U.S. officials say.
Amid dire scenes from hospitals in Gaza and a rising civilian death toll, frustration is building among administration officials who have repeatedly appealed to Netanyahu and his government to take more action to protect Palestinian civilians and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.
“We are concerned that they aren’t doing everything possible to reduce civilian casualties,” said one administration official. The comments came as Israeli forces moved in on Gaza City’s main hospital, where they said Hamas militants have been operating from an underground command center.
The friction between the two governments is over crucial long-term questions about who will govern the Palestinian enclave after Israel completes its military offensive. That includes the role of the Palestinian Authority — which currently governs the West Bank — and reviving diplomatic efforts for a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state, current and former officials said.
“There’s a looming gap between the U.S. and Israel on where we’re going to be in a month or two,” one former U.S. official said.
Although the U.S. and Israel have tried to present a united front publicly, the divide was exposed after Netanyahu last week said that Israel would have a security role in Gaza for an indefinite period.
Less than 24 hours later, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back, making it clear the U.S. would not accept any suggestion of a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip or a blockade of the enclave.
The U.S. believes there can be “no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict, hence, no attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza,” and “no reduction in the territory of Gaza,” Blinken said during a visit to Tokyo.
Blinken also laid out his most detailed vision yet for the future of Gaza, saying it “must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
The Palestinian Authority, which was pushed out of Gaza by its rivals in Hamas, administers semiautonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The U.S. and other world powers view the Palestinian Authority, which is internationally recognized but lacks strong popular support, as the only realistic alternative to Hamas, which the U.S. and other Western nations considers a terrorist organization.
Netanyahu, in turn, brushed off Blinken’s proposal, telling NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that Gaza needed to be demilitarized and deradicalized and any Palestinian force including the Palestinian Authority was not up to the job.”