Qatar and the Issue of Palestine: Limitations for Role Play

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ali Akbar Asadi
PhD Candidate, University of Allameh Tabatabaei & Expert on Middle East Issues

Qatar is a small littoral state in the Persian Gulf which is doing it utmost to play big roles in the entire Middle East region and pose itself as an important regional player at the same level with such countries as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. Therefore, it has tried to be of consequence in major regional crises and disputes. The issue of Palestine and the Palestinian-Israel dispute, as the most important and lasting of the Middle East crises, is one of the main areas in which Qatar has been trying hard to play a role in order to promote its regional standing. During the past decade, Qatar has been trying to mediate among various Palestinian groups as well as between Palestinians and Israel. Also, during the past year and following breakout of popular uprisings in the Arab world, Qatar has been trying to play a more active role in this regard by taking such measures as organizing a meeting between Fatah and Hamas groups in Doha. A recent trip by the Qatari Emir (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani) to the besieged Gaza strip could be also considered along the same lines.

When discussing the capacities and capabilities of Qatar for playing an effective and active role in the issue of Palestine, due attention should be paid to the country’s soft power components, including its media and diplomatic capacities in addition to Doha’s interactions with various parties involved in this issue, and its economic power. One can also raise this important question: Which limitations are faced by Qatar in its efforts to play an active role in the issue of Palestine? It seems that four major limitations can be enumerated as follows.

The first limitation and challenge facing Qatar for playing a role in Palestine issue is the suspicion combined with the negative attitude which prevails among most Palestinian people and groups with regard to Qatar’s role as well as its willingness and ability to help the cause of Palestine. Although some Palestinian groups and leaders are trying to avail themselves of various capacities of Qatar including its financial power, in order to improve their own conditions and the conditions of other Palestinians and somehow facilitate circumstances for their activities under the existing regional conditions, there are also profound doubts and suspicions about Qatar’s goals and tendencies in this regard. For example, when the Emir of Qatar decided to visit the Gaza Strip, some Palestinian groups pointed to Doha’s relations and interactions with Tel Aviv and underlined the need to prevent his trip to the occupied Palestinian lands. Others voiced their concerns about Qatar’s effort to create divide among various Palestinian groups. Therefore, due emphasis should be put on the rife notion among Palestinians that in spite of the warm welcome given by some Palestinian groups to Qatar’s offer of support for Palestinians, others believe that Doha cannot be counted on as a permanent supporter and a determining player in Israeli-Palestinian equations.

The second challenge posed to efforts made by Qatar for playing an active part in the issue of Palestine is Doha’s regional rivals which enjoy more power, influence and legitimacy among Palestinian groups for playing a role in the equations of Palestine. Qatar lacks the necessary capacities to compete with such major players in the issue of Palestine in the medium and long terms. Another point is that major regional states and most countries in the Middle East as well as the public opinion in the region are not probable to be really receptive to the idea of Qatar playing an axial role in the issue of Palestine. Just in the same way that a recent proposal by the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi for the establishment of a quartet group (comprising Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia) without Qatar has already proved, main political players in the region are not likely to accept Doha among themselves as a first-rate player. This is mostly due to the fact that Egypt has the main claim to the issue of Palestine while Saudi Arabia considers itself the leader of the Arab and Islamic world at a level quite different from Qatar. On the other hand, Turkey is sticking to neo-Ottomanism ideas and has adopted new policies toward Israel and Palestine as it considers a centerpiece position for Ankara in the issue of Palestine. Under such circumstances, it would be difficult for Qatar to find enough maneuvering room to be able to play a pivotal role in the issue of Palestine.

Another important limitation is about lack of hard capacities in Qatar. In other words, while financial and other soft capacities of Qatar, including its media power, for influencing the issue of Palestine cannot be easily challenged, the country lacks adequate hard power capacities to play a determining role in the equations of Palestine. Egypt, due to its geographical propinquity and military power; Saudi Arabia for its regional clout as well as extensive regional interactions and elements; Iran, because of its supports for and links to many Palestinian resistance groups; and Turkey as a result of various elements of its political, economic and military power stand a better chance and enjoy far better capacities than Qatar to play a role in Palestine equations. However, given the population and military power of Qatar, Doha does not stand a powerful ground to play an influential role in those equations.

Last but not least, there is a basic question about Qatar’s role in Palestine which should be answered first. Is the role that Qatar is playing in Palestine actually based on Doha’s regional considerations and goals, or is Qatar just playing a secondary and proxy role which is heavily influenced by regional concerns and interests of other players, especially the United States? In more clear terms and in order to carry out a thorough case study, this question should be posed first: Is the recent trip to Gaza by the Emir of Qatar and interaction with Hamas could have taken place without consultation with and attention to the interests of the United States and even Israel? Or Qatar can only play a limited role in the pivotal issue of Palestine within framework of the goals and considerations of big international powers which guarantee its stability and survival.

Despite many decades of efforts and measures taken by various regional and international players, the crisis in the Middle East and the Palestinian dispute has not found a final solution yet and the cause of Palestine has not been realized. Therefore, and in view of the aforesaid limitations and obstacles faced by Qatar for playing a role in this issue, can one expect that a small country like Qatar with its own vulnerabilities, which is just playing a secondary and proxy role in many regional developments, will be able to appear as a determining player in the issue of Palestine?

Key Words: Qatar, Palestine, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Secondary and Proxy Role, Asadi

More By Ali Akbar Asadi:

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*Barzani - Talabani Coalition and its Challenges:

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