The Voice of the Jewish News:
What to make of Qatar, the tiny Gulf kingdom that supports Hamas, refuses to show the Israeli flag and is now embroiled in a World Cup corruption scandal?
It’s a difficult one, and certainly not black and white.
For many years Qatar, an absolute monarchy with just over 200,000 citizens, has tried to act as a bridge between East and West, working as a mediator in several international crises and generally buttering its bread on both sides.
On the one hand it has fostered a close and cosy relationship with Western powers, sharing intelligence and hosting both the US and British air forces. It’s location in the Persian Gulf, a stone’s throw from Iran, is certainly a trump card.
On the other hand, this former British protectorate now ruled by the all-powerful Al-Thani family has pushed an Islamist agenda. Across the region, it has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and associated political parties, including Hamas, to the tune of several billion petro-dollars, propping up numerous nasties in the process.
Like many Arab states, its diplomatic relations with Israel have been tricky at best. Trade links between the two are hit and miss, and political links are hard to come by. A rare visit to the capital Doha by Israeli president Shimon Peres in 2007 stands out as an exception, as opposed to the rule.
Yet those in the know say Israeli-Qatari relations are “low-profile but good,” with leaders meeting in neutral venues like Davos (during the annual World Economic Forum gatherings). There are even suggestions that the Qataris played a key role in kick-starting the talks that ended with Gilat Shalit’s release.
This sort of low-level facilitation doesn’t grab headlines. What grabs headlines – and what enrages Israel supporters around the world – is the kind of caper we witnessed last year, at the World Swimming Cup in Doha, when organisers refused to show a graphic of the Israeli flag in the lanes of Israeli contestants.
With the ruling Al-Thani family now on the ropes, answering questions about officials making payments most see as bribes, nobody really knows whether relations between Israel and Qatar will continue to sour in the run up to 2022, when the football World Cup is due to take place (if the decision is not rescinded by then).
There are reasons to hope that things will improve. For one, the Muslim Brotherhood has been all but annihilated by Egyptian generals and prickly Saudis, so the Qataris may soon decide they need a new horse to back.
Additionally, Al-Thani senior recently handed over to Al-Thani junior, and the youngster is yet to make his mark. Let’s hope that when he does, that mark is less offensive than that latterly left by his old man.