The recent reports of a potential normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia have raised questions about the future of Qatar’s relations with both countries. Qatar, which has been isolated by a Saudi-led blockade since 2017, has maintained a different stance from its Gulf neighbors regarding Israel and the Palestinian issue.
Qatar established trade relations with Israel in 1996, following the Oslo Accords, but severed them in 2009 after the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Since then, Qatar has been a major supporter of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and some Western countries. Qatar has also hosted several high-level meetings between Hamas and Israeli officials, as well as providing humanitarian and financial aid to Gaza.
Qatar has also been critical of the Abraham Accords, the US-brokered agreements that normalized ties between Israel and four Arab states: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in 2020 that Qatar would not join the accords unless there was a “just solution” for the Palestinians. He also said that Qatar would not normalize relations with Israel “at the expense of Palestinian rights”.
However, Qatar has also shown some signs of openness towards Israel in recent years. In 2021, Qatar and Israel reached an agreement on diamond trade, allowing Qatari traders to access the Israeli diamond exchange and Israeli merchants to enter Qatar and open offices. This was seen as a significant step towards economic cooperation between the two countries.
In addition, Qatar has allowed thousands of Israeli soccer fans to visit the country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, despite the lack of diplomatic ties. Qatar has also facilitated the transit of Yemenite Jews to Israel in 2013, according to some reports.
Therefore, it is possible that Qatar may consider accepting Israel in the future, especially if Saudi Arabia does so first. However, Qatar is likely to demand some concessions from Israel on the Palestinian issue, such as a settlement freeze or a recognition of a Palestinian state. Qatar may also seek to maintain its role as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, as well as a donor to Gaza.
Qatar’s decision may also depend on its relations with other regional powers, such as Iran and Turkey, which have close ties with Qatar and oppose normalization with Israel. Qatar may face pressure from these allies to resist any rapprochement with Israel or to use its leverage to advance their interests in the region.
In conclusion, Qatar’s acceptance of Israel is not impossible, but it is not imminent either. Qatar may wait for Saudi Arabia to take the lead, or for more progress on the Palestinian issue, before making any move towards normalization with Israel. Qatar may also balance its relations with Israel with its ties with Iran and Turkey, which have different agendas in the Middle East.