Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Email Email Share Share Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close

loading...

How Brave Is Qatar?

by Elliott Abrams
August 25, 2011

Qatar has acquired a reputation for sharp, quick responses to crises in the Arab world and for modern and unorthodox thinking.

It is undeserved.

Qatari diplomatic activity is designed to advance the interests of the tiny country and of its ruling family. Its adoption of the Libyan opposition, for example, is not based on any principle (such as liberty, democracy, or free elections), for the Qatari government and its TV station, Al Jazeera, have been notably silent about the crisis in Bahrain. There, they have backed the royal family and the Saudi-led GCC armed presence.

A reasonable test of the Qatari ability to provide real leadership and new thinking is Qatar’s relations with Israel, which are getting worse and worse. According to press reports, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has concluded that “Qatar has stepped up its activity on behalf of Hamas and other Gaza terror groups. Qatar has been one of the chief backers of the PA’s bid to declare an Arab state in PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, and has been a major funder of anti-Israel groups abroad. Qatar also promised to fund all legal action Turkey might take against Israel in international courts over the deaths of Hamas-affiliated Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara last year.” Moreover, the story goes on, “Qatar’s activity included significant involvement in the legal preparations of the Palestinian request to the UN, and it has been pushing the PA towards the unilateral move of declaring Palestinian statehood in September. The report states further that Qatar maintains intense ties with Hamas, which include, among other things, frequent visits by Hamas Political Bureau Director Khaled Mashal to Doha.”

As a result, Israel has closed its one-man commercial office in Doha and is now blocking Qatari activities with Israeli Arabs and in the Palestinian territories, including by the giant Qatar Foundation. Qatari representatives will henceforth not be permitted to visit Israel or the West Bank.

In this context it is worth asking why, if Qatar is so supportive of the Palestinians, it gives them so little money. Today Qatar announced a gift of $50 million to the Palestinian Authority, to help pay salaries. This will be extremely helpful to the PA, but it  brings its donations to the PA in 2011 to….well, to $50 million. This, from a country that runs a multi-billion dollar budget surplus each year, has an $85 billion sovereign wealth fund, and plans to spend $4 billion on new stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. The priorities are clear.

Backing the royal family in Bahrain, supporting Hamas but then giving some money to the PA, and financing the rebels in Libya shows Qatari flexibility, but not courageous leadership. What does Qatar seek, beyond influence? Influence for what? If one judges by the programming on Al Jazeera, the royal family seeks a Middle East where American influence is diminished and radical groups are more powerful. But that would be a Middle East with little room for fabulously wealthy kings, sheiks, and emirs. As ye sow….

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by NAzir

    This write up is preposterous.

  • Posted by sarah

    Totally misinformed and misguided. Qatar was under treaty to send troops to Bahrain, and did you miss Al Jazeera’s documentary on Bahrain that caused a diplomatic snafu between the two neighbors?
    Should we expect Qatar to be some great funder of the PA as a way of showing their support for the Palestinians? Surely you’re discounting continuing coverage on Al Jazeera on Gaza, and their fight to bring the flotilla victims justice. Which supports the people of Palestine more, funding the PA to keep them functioning, or humanitarian assistance and engagement with their democratically elected government? It sounds like you just want Qatar to unilaterally support Israel, which history has shown and will continue to show is a counterproductive and unjustifiable policy. Are you really surprised that Qatar is investing billions of dollars into its own economy and simply millions into anothers?
    Any country looking out for its own people will want to squash American influence – this does not necessarily mean the end of monarchies. The UAE and Qatar have shown us the strength of the peoples loyalties to their sheikh/emir, but even if it does, Qataris will be educated and well-vested enough to run their tiny nation, sowed quite purposefully by the emir himself.

  • Posted by Mat

    “Qatari diplomatic activity is designed to advance the interests of the tiny country and of its ruling family. Its adoption of the Libyan opposition, for example, is not based on any principle (such as liberty, democracy, or free elections),” Well, is that news or worth writing an article like the one above? Does there exist any government with its policies based on principles like liberty, democracy or free elections free of serious contradictions? Prove me wrong but none comes into my mind. In that Qatar behaves less differently from the USA and EU-countries (just think of Bahrain!) than one would think. So if this article has an important point to make I do not get it.

  • Posted by BuHassan

    biased much?

  • Posted by Patrick Osgood

    “the Qatari government and its TV station, Al Jazeera, have been notably silent about the crisis in Bahrain. There, they have backed the royal family and the Saudi-led GCC armed presence.”

    Wrong. Completely wrong. Hopelessly wrong.

    Erm: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/05/shouting-in-the-dark-bahr_n_918944.html

    Whatever about the rest of this piece, the above quote shows this chap must be pretty incurious – either recklessly or deliberately – about AJ coverage on Bahrain. Not good. Not good at all.

  • Posted by WeeFree

    “Have good relations with Israel else you are not a good country.” Where was this piece of $%@# authored? Tel Aviv surely, because Israel would not like the world to view any Arab country that does not recognize Israel in any positive light.

  • Posted by Jassim

    Empowering rebels? The whole point of supporting Bahrain was to put those rebel groups down. Plus as Sara pointed, the two countries are joint with a support treaty. But the question is why would Israel break its ties with a country just because of their opposing views? That’s an obvious contradiction to democratic beliefs that Israel sing about. Israel want to control Qatar’s diplomatic goals but that would be impossible because Qatar is way stronger than that.

    A losing argument my friend.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required

Pingbacks