On April 20, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, welcomed the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, to Istanbul for talks. Official statements announced that they met to discuss humanitarian assistance to Gaza and the sanctions that Turkey had recently announced against Israel, but the rumor mills were churning out a quite different story.

Reports in the media suggested that this Ankara meeting was the result of a breakdown in relations between Hamas and Qatar. Hamas’s political hierarchy has been based in Qatar since 2012, where the Gulf kingdom has housed them in luxury hotels.

More recently, together with the US and Egypt, Qatar has taken on the role of mediator between Hamas and Israel. On the day of the Erdogan-Haniyeh meeting, The Wall Street Journal, citing an Arab official, reported that Qatar believes its role as a trusted mediator is being undermined by Hamas’s refusal to conclude a hostage-for-truce deal, and that it has threatened Hamas leaders with expulsion from Qatar if they do not.

Hamas may more leaders out of Qatar

Other reports, noting that the truce talks have stalled and perhaps assuming that Hamas will remain intransigent, state that Hamas’s political chiefs are actively exploring moving their base of operations out of Qatar. The WSJ says Hamas has recently contacted two regional countries about having its leaders live there. One of them is Oman (which has denied the story). The other, one media report suggests, could be Iran. Or, it now appears, it might be Turkey.


If the Hamas leadership does leave Qatar, the long-standing Hamas-Qatari relationship could be severed, mediated negotiations would certainly be disrupted, and any slim chance of a deal to free dozens of the Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza would go on the back burner. Israel’s options to rescue the hostages would be reduced to the long-anticipated Rafah operation and a military defeat of Hamas.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian meets with Palestinian group Hamas’ top leader, Ismail Haniyeh in Doha, Qatar December 20, 2023. (credit: IRAN’S FOREIGN MINISTRY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

On April 17, Democratic US Congressman Steny Hoyer accused Qatar of failing to exert sufficient pressure on the Palestinian group to accept a ceasefire proposal. He went so far as to accuse Qatar of “siding with Hamas.” If they failed to persuade Hamas to accept a deal, he said that Washington would reevaluate its ties with the Gulf country.

This prompted Qatar to release a statement, expressing surprise at Hoyer’s threat.

“We share his frustration that Hamas and Israel have not reached an agreement on the release of the remaining hostages,” the statement ran, “… but Qatar is only a mediator – we do not control Israel or Hamas.”

Qatar, along with the US and Egypt, has been trying to mediate a deal from the start of the Gaza war. Despite Hoyer’s criticism, the Gulf kingdom has gained considerable praise for its efforts, particularly its success in brokering the temporary ceasefire that took effect from November 24 to 30, and included the release of 50 Israeli hostages held in Gaza and 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

On November 27, the Qatari foreign ministry announced that a two-day extension to the ceasefire had been agreed in which 20 Israelis and 60 Palestinians would be released. Close to the end of the first extension another one-day extension to the truce was agreed by both sides, but it broke down on December 1, and shortly afterward hostilities were resumed.

Since then no amount of mediation has succeeded in gaining agreement on the terms of a further truce and hostage release. The negotiations have stalled. And Qatar is unhappy, not only at its failure to persuade Hamas to accept any kind of deal, but also at the criticism it is facing as a consequence.

Qatar to re-evaluate role as mediator

On April 17, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani announced that Qatar is reevaluating its mediation role in ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

“Qatar is proceeding with a complete reevaluation of its role,” he said, complaining, without naming Hoyer, about “the exploitation by some politicians who are trying to conduct their electoral campaigns by defaming the State of Qatar. There are limits to this role and limits to the ability to which we can contribute to these negotiations in a constructive way.”

Perhaps the limits were reached when all efforts to replicate the truce-for-hostage deal – successfully concluded in November – were blocked by Hamas intransigence. So perhaps the media reports are accurate. Perhaps Qatar has lost patience, and is showing Hamas the door.

Although Hamas has denied that it is seeking a new base, the Haniyeh-Erdogan meeting, followed by a trip to Doha, Qatar’s capital, by Hakan Fidan, the Turkish foreign minister, may indicate something different.

As a side issue, some in the Israeli government go along with Congressman Hoyer, and regard the Gulf kingdom as too biased to be impartial. Some would actually welcome Qatar abandoning its mediator role, in the hope that if Qatar steps aside, Cairo will take over.

“Egypt should have been the main mediator from the beginning,” a member of the hostage negotiation team in Israel told the Daily Telegraph. “They don’t align with the Muslim Brotherhood mentality, and have no vested interests with Hamas like Qatar and Turkey do.”

The Israeli negotiator has a point. Qatar and Erdogan’s Turkey have both supported Hamas for years, and they share the Sunni Islamist ideology it promulgates. Egypt, on the other hand, has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and declared it a terrorist organization.

On April 22, HuffPost reported that, in rare extensive interviews last month, two prominent Hamas leaders separately spoke of flexibility on their political leadership’s location. They spoke shortly after a Hamas delegation had returned from a lengthy visit to Iran. As a consequence, some experts saw Tehran as a possible next base for the organization, a scenario that would leave the US with far less access to, or leverage over, Hamas.

Basem Naim, a member of Hamas’s politburo in Gaza, explained that if Qatar decided to withdraw its hospitality, the organization was quite prepared to move.

“Hamas leadership is used to [moving] from place to place,” he said.

But Hamas is increasingly concerned with projecting a confident image and challenging the idea it is becoming more isolated. So when the HuffPost contacted Naim again on April 21, he had somewhat changed his tune. He pointed to a statement he had recently issued rejecting the WSJ article as “complicit with the Israeli misleading propaganda.”

Claims that Hamas “is considering leaving Qatar for another country,” he said “have no basis.”

Time will tell.

The writer is the Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020. Follow him at: www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com.


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