Jews and Qatar are partners in peace, not enemies – opinion

Over three years ago, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar over its alleged support of Iran and terrorism. The three Gulf monarchies also expelled all Qatari citizens from their countries and provided their citizens living in Qatar with a 14-day deadline to leave the blockaded country. Egypt, however, has not placed any travel restrictions on its estimated 200,000 citizens residing in Qatar nor has it expelled Qataris living in Egypt or imposed an economic embargo on Doha. The draconian measures taken against ordinary Qataris triggered an enormous anger over being separated from relatives and business partners, which, in turn, solidified their belief that Qatar’s immediate neighbors had become mortal enemies overnight.The crisis, however, quickly migrated to Washington where surrogates representing the UAE, Qatar’s regional nemesis, sought to secure US President ’s support for their blockade by focusing on Doha’s links to Hamas. The anti-Qatar rhetoric in Washington had almost exclusively been focusing on Hamas and was specifically tailored to drag Israel into the inter-Arab conflict with potentially devastating geopolitical consequences, including for Jerusalem.But as I document in my new book, The Gulf Region and Israel: Old Struggles New Alliances, Israel played a critical role in stabilizing the Gulf crisis by quietly extending Qatar a diplomatic lifeline through accelerating cooperation in Gaza, which in turn helped Doha regain its footing in Washington. Israel in the process also transformed itself into an unlikely peacemaker by extending Qatar a hand in peace while strengthening its de facto strategic partnership with the UAE, as I argue in a recent essay for the journal Foreign Policy that draws on several themes from my book.Whereas Qatar has had minimal engagement with America’s mainstream pro-Israel community prior to the crisis, once it erupted, these organizations should be commended for how they handled this extraordinary dangerous and high-stakes Arab standoff playing out in Washington: By resisting efforts to participate in anti-Qatar lobbying in Washington, mainstream pro-Israel organizations chose instead constructive engagement with Abu Dhabi and Doha to hear from their various perspectives.Israel’s positive and extraordinary important role in helping stabilize the Gulf crisis is well-understood in Doha and the fact that mainstream American pro-Israel organizations did not lobby against Qatar during an extraordinary dangerous time is deeply appreciated. What has, however, saddened – and frustrated – many of my Qatari friends, is the fact that its Arab neighbors are consistently smearing them in Washington as “antisemites” and supporters of extremism and terrorism to advance their own narrow agenda. While UAE surrogates smear Qatar as “antisemitic” in the West, pro-Saudi surrogates consistently smear Doha in Arabic for being “too close to Israel.”THE ISSUE of antisemitism in Qatar, or Qatar’s alleged support for it, was never raised as an agenda item by Israeli officials throughout the 13 years that the two countries enjoyed formal diplomatic relations (1996-2009), as I reveal in my book. (Qatar has since hosted American rabbis for interfaith dialogue under the auspices of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue).Moreover, then emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani – who abdicated in 2013 in favor of his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, now the current emir – was very proud of his relationship with Israel and considered the Qatar-Israel relationship to be a catalyst for positive change for the broader Middle East, according to a book published by Sammy Revel on Israeli-Qatari relations.What newcomers to our field of Gulf-Israel relations may not fully understand is that Qatar’s independent foreign policy, including its relationship with Israel, triggered enormous anger with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.While Saudi Arabia considers itself as leader of the Gulf, Egypt at that time considered itself as the leader of the Arab world. Qatar, from their point of view, was just a small entity in the broader neighborhood of the Middle East that should remain within “the Arab fold.” The launch of Qatari state-funded broadcaster of Al Jazeera in 1996 only exasperated this anger.These dynamics are the root causes of the present tensions between Qatar and its neighbors, which set the stage for the Gulf crisis of 2017. This long-standing Arabian struggle was introduced in the West as a battle against terrorism (Hamas) and political Islam (Muslim Brotherhood).For none experts and newcomers to the study of Gulf-Israel relations, these arguments appeared seductive as there were many uncertainties as to how and why Qatari-Israeli relations collapsed in 2009, an issue I discuss at great length in my book.Fast forward to the Gulf crisis of 2017, if there is a silver lining to this sorry saga, it is that Qataris fully understand that Jews are not their enemy as the entire anti-Qatar campaign in Washington was spearheaded by their own Gulf Arab neighbors. After all, it was Qatar’s own neighbor, Saudi Arabia, which sought to invade it and cynically – along with the UAE – deployed anti-Qatar rhetoric mostly focusing on Hamas and Iran in Washington to secure this objective, another issue I discuss in my book.For Saudi Arabia in whose view Qatar is an illegitimate entity, it perceived the Trump presidency – along with the UAE – as a geopolitical opportunity to settle the Qatar question once and for all. It did not work and three and a half years later, the parties are locked into a bitter and frozen stalemate.In my humble opinion, ongoing efforts to malign Qatar as a supporter of extremism and terrorism – including in recent columns appearing in The Jerusalem Post – will not impact Qatar’s desire to maintain friendly relations with the Jewish people as a partner in peace to jointly bring about a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.The writer is the author of The Gulf Region and Israel: Old Struggles, New Alliances (Kodesh Press, 2020). Twitter: @NeubauerSigurd
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