Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire
July 24th, 2014
11:40 AM ET

Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Egypt has long been viewed as a key player in the Middle East peace process – a major Arab country willing to engage with Israel while endeavoring, however begrudgingly, to advance the interests of the Palestinian people. But as the Israeli military campaign on the Gaza strip continues, it is becoming increasingly clear that Egypt’s new government might not be in a position to broker a ceasefire this time around. Indeed, Western powers might find themselves having to look for help from a different partner: Qatar.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has proven more adept at securing the backing of politicians and diplomats in Tel Aviv, Washington and New York for a peace initiative than it has at reaching out to Palestinians. This is especially the case as far as the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are concerned, many of whom only learned of the ceasefire proposal through media reports.

And while Hamas rejected the agreement “in its current form,” Cairo has shown seemingly little interest in genuinely appreciating Hamas’ take on the causes of the conflict or modifying the terms of the proposed ceasefire to address the longer term issues. In fact, Egypt under el-Sisi has attacked the Islamist group as part of its relentless crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, with former Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy removed from power and put on trial, hundreds of his supporters killed, and thousands more imprisoned. Over the past year, Hamas has been vilified in both official statements and public opinion, with its members banned from Egyptian soil, the Rafah border crossing between the two countries effectively shut, and hundreds of smuggling tunnels destroyed – blocking the supply of food, fuel, construction material and medicine along with weapons. 

As Israeli air raids, rockets and artillery fire demolish entire neighborhoods in Gaza, and a ground invasion drives the death toll for the strip over 600, Egypt’s government has kept the border crossing firmly shut, even to an aid convoy of activists and medical volunteers – ensuring that Gaza remains cut off from the world on all sides. Some 118,000 Palestinians are now displaced within the confined space of the Gaza Strip, and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees is said to be fast running out of supplies.

The pretense that Egypt is mediating between two equal, warring parties is untenable given the stranglehold the seven-year blockade has placed on the Gaza Strip and the horrendous destruction visited upon the enclave time and again by Israel’s armed forces, each time with relative impunity.

Hamas has no interest in a ceasefire that prolongs this state of affairs, and has little reason to trust that the el-Sisi government will follow through on promoting vague commitments to freeing the enclaves borders, especially after a previous initiative – brokered by the far more sympathetic Morsy government – accomplished little more than freezing in place Gaza’s status quo misery.

Yet Egyptian officials have rejected the idea that any proposal other than Egypt’s could help bring an end to the bloodshed in the enclave. Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri issued a stern warning last Thursday to what he termed the “Hamas-Qatar-Turkey” axis, accusing the three parties of undermining Egypt’s role in the region after news circulated that they were discussing an alternate deal.

But while the Egyptian and Qatari governments have been at loggerheads since the overthrow of Morsy, the al-Sisi government and supporters of its ceasefire initiative must be willing to offer Qatar a role in mediation. Indeed, even governments and organizations that have backed the existing proposal – the United States, France, the United Nations – have reached out to the Gulf emirate, recognizing that Qatar is one of the few regional actors that have maintained strong ties to (and perhaps influence over) Hamas’ leadership.

True, Qatar’s mediation record is mixed, with initiatives to resolve conflicts in Yemen, Lebanon and Darfur often generating more press excitement than durable solutions. Yet while Qatar’s hyperactive foreign policy during the Arab Spring has undermined its reputation for impartial mediation, and has at times aggravated regional powers (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in March over the emirate’s perceived intransigence), the country remains a capable intermediary for dealing with some of the region’s more unsavory characters.

Qatari envoys reached out to al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in negotiating the release of the nuns of Maaloula, and it was Qatar that served a go-between for U.S. negotiations with the Taliban in the recent prisoner swap that freed U.S. Army Sergeant and POW Bowe Berghdahl. Just this past Sunday, Doha received visits from both U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, while Abbas and Doha-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal met separately.

However, Qatar – particularly Emir Tamim and Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya – will require support if it is to serve as more than a “communication channel,” as al-Attiya put it on Sunday. Those members of the international community eager for Qatar to “lean on” its contacts within Hamas need to be willing to run diplomatic interference for Qatar both within the Gulf, where a spat is already brewing over Qatari media allegations of the United Arab Emirates conspiring with Israel against Hamas, and with Egypt, which since the time of Mubarak has viewed Qatar’s mediation attempts in the region as trespassing on traditional Egyptian territory.

The reality is that the current crisis requires a regional response if diplomatic maneuvering is to serve as anything more than a smokescreen for continued bloodshed and demolition in the Gaza Strip. With the United Nations and the United States increasingly uneasy about the magnitude of the destruction brought by Israel’s campaign of collective punishment, decrying Hamas’ actions from afar will do nothing to help convince them to come to the negotiating table. Qatar has kept these channels of communication open – it’s time to use them.


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Topics: Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. mira

    Barakt , your bias is quite transparent and thankfully CNN is more than willing to oblige for that point of view.
    Qatar's $$$ speaks volume.......Anything has to do with Qatar has to do with payments and bribes (World Cup bribes?)
    In the end it boils down to Qatar paying a writer to bash Egypt for Muslim Brotherhood sake. It has nothing to do with civilians' death in Gaza, it has to do with hatred for Egypt.
    Stop vilifying Egypt, stop harboring terrorists.

    July 24, 2014 at 3:23 pm |
    • Mohammed

      CNN = ALJAZEERA. Long live the brave people of Egypt and god bless Egyptian Army which is now tasked in protecting people of Egypt against Muslim Brotherhood. CNN and ALJAZEERA's lies do nothing but hurt the poor Palestinian people who fall victim to Hamas political ambitions. Perhaps CNN desires to see more Palestinains die so it can make profit from reporting nonsense and lies

      July 25, 2014 at 2:20 am |
  2. chri§§y

    Israel must stop the blockade that has impoverished the citizens of Gaza if it truly WANTS Peace! Since they refuse everyone has to know the Peace is NOT their mission! And since they dont want peace the US most definitely MUST stop all financial aid to this "UNholy" land!!!!!

    July 24, 2014 at 4:32 pm |
    • BOMBO

      It would be great but the one missing step in the process is that Hamas must stop firing rockets at Israel. Until that happens Israel would be fools to end the blockade. Again it is Hamas holding up the peace process not Israel.

      July 27, 2014 at 10:08 pm |
  3. chri§§y

    I strongly encourage every US citizen who would like to see peace between these two countries to call their state representatives office and have your voice be heard!!! They will have to act if enough of us do this! So...if you dont want your tax dollars used for the death of innocent people call TODAY! And KEEP calling! Let them know youre fed up!

    July 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm |
  4. chri§§y

    And to re~itterate im talking about our tax dollars that are being sent to finance Israel's military!!!

    July 24, 2014 at 6:28 pm |
    • David

      You sound like Dr Goebbels did in Germany in the 1930s.

      July 28, 2014 at 1:25 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Qatar would have been the only channel to Hamas. Yet Cairo is allergic to the "Hamas-Qatar-Turkey” axis, because the three were ideological soulmates of the Muslim Brotherhood. The new government under Sisi has accused the three of undermining Egypt’s role in the region and has make life difficult for Hamas and the Gazans.

    July 24, 2014 at 6:46 pm |
  6. The GOP Solution

    The GOP Solution: Turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. And don't forget the GOP all time favorites........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!

    July 24, 2014 at 7:44 pm |
    • Mohammed

      why confuse the issues with GOP? This is Muslim Brotherhoods last attempt through its backers in Turkey and Qatar to become relevant by sacrificing the blood of our Palestinian brothers for their political gain. Until people realize that Palestinain suffering at the hand of Hamas will not stop. This is the result Iran wants. Egypt tried to impose a cease fire by Turkey torpedoed it

      July 25, 2014 at 2:17 am |
      • Abdullah

        If u truly want peace and by that i mean peace that lasts for centuries not a couple of years the palestinian people should be liberated either by going back to 1967 boarders and giving them control of their own boarders and airspace. When people are being oppressed for over 50 years and denied basic human rights and dignity you expect them to resort to violence or any other bath that would help them gain their freedom. The killing is still unjustifiable but it is provoked by 50 years of oppression. So if Qatar could help get the people of Gaza to that state of affairs then all of the people that died through out the conflict could rest in peace knowing that they contributed to peace

        August 3, 2014 at 7:26 am |
  7. markdonners

    The reason you can't convince Israel not to kill children is because they are by nature child killers. They are European invaders masquerading as "Jewish" who would fit right in with Hitler's concentration camp guards. Israel has no religion.. in fact it's genocide campaign included the original Jewish tribes of Palestine.

    July 25, 2014 at 12:19 am |
    • Mohammed

      you seem to have your facts wrong. Hamas, an arm of the greater terrorist organization of Muslim Brotherhood uses children as human shields so they get legitiacy in the eyes of people like you. Wake up and understand the reality. Muslim Brotherhood has brought nothing but death and destruction to the proud people of Egypt. As a true Egyptian, I find it offensive that you turn a blind eye to Hamas atrocities against Egypt and its own people

      July 25, 2014 at 2:14 am |
    • David

      Your post would have delighted Dr Goebbels.

      July 28, 2014 at 1:24 pm |
  8. Mohammed

    CNN seems to be copying its content from ALzazeera – a very pro terrorist approach, and in support of muslim brotherhood instead of taking notice of Egypt's desire to have a future that is not like that of Iran

    July 25, 2014 at 2:11 am |
  9. The Dream Palace of the Arabs

    Israel should make it clear:
    If it is unsafe to fly to Tel Aviv, it should be unsafe to fly Qatar Airways and it will be irresponsible to visit the 2022 games.
    That will teach the terrorist from Doha a lesson.

    July 25, 2014 at 2:27 am |
  10. Dismanirie

    It never ceases to amaze me how inconvenient truths feed the hypocrisy of politicians. Hamas was elected in free elections by the majority of Gaza voters, but the result suited nobody other than them. Adore them or despise them, Hamas has a legitimate right to represent the Gazan people, and a damn sight more than El Sisi's right to speak for all Egyptians, let alone act as an "honest broker" to mediate between Israel and Gaza. Qatar at least has never concealed its point of view in respect of regional politics, and that courage (or naivety) has brought it problems. What Qatar does have is a reputation of not deserting its principles even when it is a lonely voice in the wilderness.
    And no, I do not support the Muslim Brotherhood, and no, I am not a self-hating Jew, and no, I am not a Qatari.

    July 25, 2014 at 3:13 am |
    • David

      You write "I do not support the Muslim Brotherhood, and no, I am not a self-hating Jew, and no, I am not a Qatari" – but you plausibly sound like any of these. Brave Egypt is on the side of the angels in this conflict – the Qataris are definitely not.

      July 28, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
  11. Matt

    We have to do a prisoner swap alive or bones so i don't trust the UN or Palestinian death toll. So 1,000 need to be KIA. They are saying about 800. That is for a humanitarian ceasefire. I told you in 2007 blockade lifted change the Hamas charter, they chose violence.

    July 25, 2014 at 11:37 am |
  12. sandstorm

    islam is the greatest they islamic warriors has killed 37 jews hunting down the rats as the swet in the hot sun there jewish bodys stiff with fear from pain long live islam only islam every jew should boil in flames death to the jewish children let them brun to posphate and calcium poweder. long live the grand mufti.

    July 25, 2014 at 11:58 am |
    • David

      Thank you for your eloquent justification of Israel's self-defence. With friends like you, the Palestinians don't need enemies.

      July 28, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
  13. Name*foyez

    Look its very simple it the issue is not Qatar or Egypt or turkey, it's the jew killing our Muslims powered by America and urope this is a holy war fought by the cursider, jews are there front lane . Hams was elected by the people of gaza they have the right to fight for gaza. The killing of Muslims the blame goes to jews and the west including Britain and france. They hold the key!

    July 27, 2014 at 12:30 am |
    • David

      Your jihadi bluster is almost comical – "the jew" is not to blame for the violent Mid East – just look at the slaughter in "judenrein" Iraq. The jihadi weird beards are the source of the trouble, and Hamas is at the top of that list.

      July 28, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
  14. David

    A piece of pseudo-journalism that is astonishing in its naked, pro-Hamas propaganda. It speaks volumes of GPS that it would waste its valuable space on this kind of tosh. The author is pushing a petrodollars-meets-jihadi axis that would be (and has been!) dangerous for the Mid East and for the world.

    July 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm |
  15. melfeke

    The writer is a terrorists sympathizer and advocating for Qatar to continue supporting and financing terrorism worldwide

    August 4, 2014 at 10:46 am |
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