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DOHA DEALINGS

Qatar PM Al Thani claims Doha has no leverage over Hamas

As pressure from Israel and U.S. Jewish groups increase for Qatar to squeeze Hamas, the country’s prime minister says it can’t do anything about the terror group

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, attends a news conference about the Israel-Hamas war, and pressure to reduce civilian casualties, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Washington.

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar, asserted on Monday that his country has no practical leverage over Hamas, amid growing calls for Doha to put more pressure on the terrorist group to release the remaining hostages held in Gaza.

Al Thani, speaking during an Atlantic Council event, claimed that the only leverage the country has is as a mediator — “by words, by meetings, by commitments, by addressing the issues with some solutions” — and said that Qatar’s hosting of Hamas’ leadership does not give the Gulf nation any ability to influence Hamas. Qatar has also provided significant funding to Hamas for years.

“Our role needs to be understood clearly in this context, our role is mediator, we try to bring the parties to bridge gaps between them,” Al Thani said. “We don’t see that Qatar is a superpower that can impose something on this party or the other party to bring them to that place.”’

He also claimed that Qatar’s hosting of Hamas leadership had been “taken out of context,” noting that the Hamas office in Qatar had been established in coordination with the U.S.

“It doesn’t mean that being there, hosting them is a leverage that we have over them,” Al Thani said. “We don’t see that this is a point of leverage. We see this as a point, as a channel of communication that we are using, always for good causes.”

Neither Al Thani nor the event’s moderators — NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius — directly raised the issue of Qatari financing provided to Hamas. His responses are unlikely to satisfy the increasingly vocal critics of Qatar in Israel, Congress and the broader Jewish community.

Al Thani also repeatedly sidestepped questions critical of Hamas, including whether peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestinians is possible while the eliminationist terrorist group remains in power, whether Hamas has a role in the future governance of the West Bank and whether Hamas must accept Israel’s right to exist and a two-state solution.

The prime minister spoke in generalities in response to each question, emphasizing a two-state solution as the only path forward to peace, and the future of Palestinian governance as a matter for Palestinians to decide, without directly Hamas.

He was more directly critical of Israel. While he called on all Palestinians to accept a two-state solution, he largely blamed Israel for failing to take significant steps to advance such a peaceful outcome following previous rounds of negotiations and alluded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution.

The Qatari leader said there had been “good progress” in recent days toward a deal to free the remaining hostages. 

“We cannot say that this will make us in better shape very soon. But we are hoping, actually, to relay this proposal to Hamas and to get them to a place where they engage positively and constructively in the process,” Al Thani said. “In today’s world, that’s the only game in town now, and that will be the only way to get the situation de-escalated.”

Al Thani offered criticism of the Iran-backed strike on U.S. forces in Jordan, which killed three service members, noting that it infringed on Jordanian sovereignty and undermined the anti-ISIS coalition. He added that it represents additional widening of the conflict in Gaza, warning of regional escalation.

Asked about a potential U.S. strike on Iran in retaliation, Al Thani discouraged such action, saying, “We believe the ones who are responsible for the attacks, those are the ones who should be held accountable,” adding, “We are calling for de-escalation to contain the situation as much as possible.”

“Restoring calm in Gaza is going to be key to defuse all other escalations in the region,” he continued.

Al Thani also downplayed the significance of the revelations that a dozen U.N. Relief and Works Agency employees participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, describing it as “the only agency that can provide help and aid for the Palestinians.”

“[UNRWA] cannot be punished because of the acts of some employees as long as [UNRWA] are complying with” their internal procedures, Al Thani argued. “It’s a behavior of an individual or small group of people among tens of thousands… it cannot be a way to label the entire agency as violating or adopting such [an] act.”

Neither Al Thani nor the event’s moderators addressed a report in the Wall Street Journal that 1,200 UNRWA employees are members of Hamas, and around half of its employees have close ties to Hamas members.

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