Qatar-Israel Relations: A Historical Overview

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qatar’s Emir meeting 
Israel's PM Ehud Olmert in Paris, Jul 2008. Source: LIFE
Qatar, the “rising start” of Middle Eastern diplomacy, has been engaged in its bilateral relations with the State of Israel for exactly 20 years now, since the former Emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani expressed his support for the Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid in 1991. Its bold commitment to actively engage in regional diplomacy and raise Qatar’s position internationally contributed to a slow but steady process of normalisation of the interstate relations between the two countries, Qatar becoming de facto the first GCC state to grant official recognition to Israel by establishing mutual business and trade relations in 1996, when the first Israeli Trade Office in the GCC opened in Doha following a visit by the then Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Following the Oslo Accords and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa’s presence at the signing ceremony of the “Oslo 2” agreement, a number of trade ventures were initiated and a recognisable warming of the inter-state relations took place. However, the election of Benyamin Netanyahu to the Israeli prime-ministerial office, followed by the opening of the Western Wall tunnel in 1996 led to a significant deterioration in their relations. Despite the freeze in the Arab-Israeli peace process at the time, Qatar invited Israel to participate in the MENA Economic Conference hosted in Doha in 1997, which caused a clear Arab outrage with Saudi Arabia calling the move as threatening “the higher interest of the Arab Nation.” However, further stagnation of the peace process made the Qatari government increasingly uncomfortable at justifying the presence of their mutual trade relations, and although the situation did not force Qatar to sever its ties with Israel, the government decided to distance itself from its partner.
Tzipi Livni, Israel's FM meets Qatar's Emir, Apr 2008. Source: MEMRI
Qatar-Israel relations suffered another setback as an effect of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 that led to massive protests against the Israeli state all throughout the Middle East, including Qatar. The Qatari authorities did not refrain from harsh criticism of their Israeli counterparts and successively turned down Ehud Barak’s request to visit the emirate, a move that constituted a sign of support for the popular discontent with Israel but did not lead to any conscious policy change; Sheikh Hamad eventually met Barak at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. In the run-up to Doha’s Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in November 2000 Qatar’s continuous engagement with the Israelis caused a major political row with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other states. Finally, succumbing to various regional pressures Qatar announced the closure of the Israeli office in Doha on 9th November 2000, however further secret meetings between the two states did take place and the unofficial co-operation continued.
Shimon Peres, 9th President & former PM of Israel
visits Georgetown University in Qatar, Mar 2007
Qatar’s non-permanent representation at the UN Security Council (UNSC) in 2006-7 supported by the Israeli authorities, and its effective assistance offered to Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon War revealed another important aspects of Qatari political behaviour in the face of changing regional circumstances. Despite being a vocal advocate of dialogue between Israel and the official Lebanese government, Qatar maintained dialogue with Hamas and Hizbullah representatives, a position that was disconcerting not only to Israel but also Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Additionally, Qatar abstained from the vote on Resolution 1757 (May 2007), which called for international tribunal to investigate the Rafiq Hariri assassination, a move that raised a few eyebrows in Washington. Following the eventual ceasefire and successive 18-month long political deadlock in Lebanon, which originated in their Parliament’s inability to elect a President, Qatar; arguably due to its neutrality and the ability to engage politically with numerous political players on an equal footing; emerged a triumphant regional peace broker that helped to strike a much-needed, yet for long seemingly improbable power-sharing agreement.
Qatar’s policy towards Israel reached a turning point in December 2008 when Israel attacked Gaza in what Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani called “the flagrant savage aggression against the Palestinian people.” As an effect of the Operation Cast Lead Qatar severed all its ties with Israel, shut down the trade office and expelled all Israeli representatives. Not surprisingly, however, once the international and regional condemnation of Israeli actions in Gaza lessened, Qatar attempted re-establishing the ties again in 2009 and 2010. This time however, the Qatari initiative was met with a clear rebuttal from the Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Sheikh Hamad b. J. Al Thani, Qatar's PM & Foreign Affairs Minister with Silvan 
Shalom, Israel's Vice-PM & Minister for Regional Development in Paris, 2003.
More recently, however, in a yet another interesting shift in the Qatar-Israel relations, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani is believed to have held secret meeting with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in London earlier this month. As indicated by various media reports Qatar has an eye to future LNG sales to Israel. Due to recent unrest in Egypt, Israeli imports of gas from that country have been largely severed and it wouldn't be surprising if the Qataris wanted to fill that gap by exporting their LNG to Israel, even below market rates as some indicate.
The history of Qatar-Israeli co-operation is long and perfectly exemplifies Qatar’s foreign policy of independent diplomatic engagement with all its international partners indiscriminately, thus allowing Qatar “to assert its independence in the Arab arena and compete as an emerging regional political power.” Qatar’s understanding of non-commitment to a particular political group or country allows the state the flexibility to engage politically with many sides of the political spectrum and gives it the comfortable room to re-evaluate its policies according to the changing geopolitical realities and to manoeuvre quite easily within its own diplomatic balancing game.
2011 © Matthew Machowski

1 comment:

  1. The history of Qatar-Israeli co-operation is long and perfectly exemplifies Qatar’s foreign policy of independent diplomatic engagement with all its international partners indiscriminately, buy dissertation thus allowing Qatar “to assert its independence in the Arab arena and compete as an emerging regional political power


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