The Biden administration is evidently continuing to pretend that Qatar, the Gulf state that funds and sponsors Hamas, is an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Qatar, in addition to the billions of dollars it has been pouring on Hamas, is still hosting several leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist terror group, whose members, on October 7, 2023, beheaded, raped, tortured, burned alive more than 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped hundreds more.
Not only is Qatar far from being a neutral mediator, it is massively biased in favor of Hamas and other Islamist terror groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria.
Qatar's Al-Jazeera Arabic-language television channel has long served as a central platform for actively promoting the messages of Hamas and other Iranian terror proxies in the Middle East.
In addition, Al-Jazeera has refused to broadcast interviews with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are critical of Hamas. In one instance, an Al-Jazeera correspondent in the Gaza Strip interrupted a live interview with a wounded Palestinian who was complaining that Hamas terrorists were hiding among civilians "instead of in their tunnels."
On January 7, exactly three months after the Hamas atrocities, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Qatar where, he said, he "discussed ongoing efforts to better protect civilians in Gaza and to get more humanitarian assistance to them, and to get the remaining [Israeli] hostages out and home with their loved ones."
Qatar, Blinken added, "was instrumental in the negotiations that led to the simultaneous release of more than 100 hostages, including American citizens."
Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, on the other hand, said during a joint press conference with Blinken: "Our main target purpose is the stop of this [Israel-Hamas] war and to avoid a bigger escalation in the region. We believe that the solution is to stop this war in Gaza."
Did he mean before more of his clients got killed?
Prior to his meeting with Blinken in Doha, the Qatari prime minister reportedly told the family members of six US and Israeli hostages that the killing of senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut on January 2 has made efforts to secure a new deal more difficult.
Or was that just the most convenient pretext at hand?
Al-Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas's military wing, was responsible for several terrorist attacks against Israelis over the past decade – so much so, that the US had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
Since Hamas's October 7 assault on Israel, US President Joe Biden and other senior US officials have talked to Qatar's ruler, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and other top officials in the Gulf state about the need to secure the release of all the hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The Biden administration's policy of pleading with Qatar has so far proven partially successful: In October, Hamas did release more than 100 hostages. However, at least 136 hostages, including children, women and the elderly, are still being held by Hamas, most of whose leaders are still based in Qatar despite reports that some had fled and gone into hiding after Israel's Mossad announced that they would be held accountable. Just this week Ismail Haniyeh appeared on TV from Doha.
The Qataris are now pretending that they do not have enough leverage with Hamas because of Israel's alleged assassination of al-Arouri.
The Biden administration is making a colossal mistake by relating to Qatar as an honest broker. Qatar is Hamas and Hamas is Qatar. Without Qatar's political and financial support, Hamas would not have been able to grow and remain in power for the past 17 years.
Biden administration officials appear not to want to know that talking to Qatar is tantamount to talking to Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis.
If the ruler of Qatar really wanted to end the hostage saga, all he has to do is issue an ultimatum to Hamas that if the hostages are not released within, say, 48 hours, he will expel all the Hamas leaders who are still in Qatar and stop funding and providing political support to the group. Arab dictators are not known to be merciful toward those who defy them.
The Qataris, however, have no reason to threaten Hamas: Qatar's leaders themselves are not facing pressure from the Americans and other Western powers. As patrons of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, the Qataris will do their utmost to protect Islamist terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Their ultimate goal is to spread Islam to all non-Muslims. Qatar, for example, introduced Islam to FIFA World Cup visitors using multiple electronic billboards in public places, like the ones in Times Square. Booklets about Islam were distributed and multilingual male and female preachers explained Islam's religion and "tolerance" to tourists at the Katara Cultural Village Mosque in Doha. Moreover, the hadiths (the words, actions, or habits of prophet Mohammed) were written on the walls of streets to attract non-Muslim visitors.
When the Qatari prime minister states that the killing of Hamas arch-terrorist al-Arouri has made efforts to secure a deal over the hostages more difficult, he is simply seeking an excuse to avoid inconveniencing his client.
According to Hamas, more than 22,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the war. Why hasn't the death of so many Palestinians made it more difficult to reach a deal over the release of the hostages? Could it be because Qatar's mouthpiece, Al Jazeera, is effectively as much of a terrorist calling for Israel's destruction as are Hamas, Hezbollah, or Qatar's close ally, Iran?
After more than 12,000 Palestinians, including top Hamas military commanders, were killed in the Gaza Strip (again, according to Hamas), more than a hundred Israeli hostages were released. Why did the death of those Palestinians not make it "more difficult" to secure the hostages' release? Is it because Hamas orchestrates having as many of its own civilians killed as possible so that the international community will then blame their deaths on Israel?
Apparently, Qatar does not feel that it is under any pressure from the Biden administration to end the ordeal of the hostages.
Why hasn't the US demanded the extradition of Hamas leaders who are still in Qatar for their responsibility for the murder and abduction of US citizens on October 7?
Instead of removing the US's Al-Udeid Airbase from Qatar, or threatening to do so, instead, the Biden administration in early January quietly reached an agreement that extends the US military presence there for another 10 years. Now that the rulers of Qatar have secured another decade of US military protection for their corrupt regime, they will be even less incentivized to exert pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.
As for the leaders of Hamas, why should they make any concessions as long as Qatar allows them to continue living in their villas and five-star hotels in Doha?
The Qataris (and Hamas) must be amused at the attempts of Republican Senator Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen (Nevada), who sent a letter to Biden asking him to put pressure on Qatar to strong-arm Hamas back to the negotiating table on a new hostage deal. Qatar's ruler has no need to worry: the Biden administration will doubtless ignore the senators' request.
Since 2007, after Hamas toppled the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip and seized full control there, Qatar, together with Turkey, were the only countries to back Hamas. Since then, Qatar has transferred more than $1.8 billion to Hamas. Qatar's former ruler, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, was the first state leader to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in 2012. Later, Iran also began funding and arming the terror group.
The relationship between Hamas and Qatar further strengthened in 2008 and 2009, when Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was invited to attend the Doha Summit, where he was seated next to Qatar's ruler at the time, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
According to the Israeli daily business newspaper Calcalist:
"The Qatari funding for Hamas is divided into two periods. The first, in the years 2007-2014, when the Qatari government financed Hamas as it saw fit, far from any international supervision and control, and the second from 2014 until today when Qatari financing is done in coordination with Israel, the United States and the United Nations. At the same time, independent financing channels operate all the time in Qatar, ignoring the authorities...
"The one who is still assisting in the effort is Iran, which also has good relations with its Qatari neighbor. Qatari money has become synonymous with the building of the terrorist empire of Hamas, which has struck with all its force in Israel."
The Biden administration can perhaps learn from the Arabs how to deal with countries that sponsor Islamist terrorist groups. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed bilateral relations with Qatar and subsequently banned Qatar-registered aircraft and Qatari ships from utilizing their sovereign territory by air, land, or sea.
The Arab countries cited as the main reason for their actions Qatar's support for terrorism and demanded, among other things, the closure of Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations; expelling any members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; cutting off military and intelligence cooperation with Iran; severing ties with terrorist, ideological and sectarian organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah; surrendering all designated terrorists in Qatar, and stopping all means of funding for individuals, groups or organizations that have been designated as terrorists.
Instead of taking a cue from the Arabs, Biden and Blinken chose to coddle Qatar – the same way they catastrophically chose to coddle the Taliban in Afghanistan, Russia, China, Mexico and Iran -- even though it is the sole Arab country that protects the Hamas leaders responsible for the October 7 massacres.
The time to designate Qatar a State Sponsor of Terrorism is long overdue, and to move America's Al-Udeid Air Base to the United Arab Emirates or some other compatible location.
Qatar is not an ally of the US.
If Hamas released the hostages and laid down its weapons, the war would end tomorrow. However, with Biden and Blinken handling both Iran and Hamas's patrons in Qatar with kid gloves, Doha and Tehran have no reason whatever to stop it.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.