What is behind Qatar’s shift towards Israel? (Part 1)

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Over the past year or so, the tiny Gulf state of Qatar has been getting increasingly close to pro-Israel figures from the United States.

 

Things are so bad that Qatar last year donated a quarter of a million dollars to some of America’s mostly rabidly anti-Palestinian, hard-right Zionist organisations, including the Zionist Organisation of America, whose president Morton Klein this month slandered Palestinians in openly racist terms as “filthy Arab[s]”.

A pro-Israel policy is something of a departure for the small, gas-rich emirate. Qatar has enormous amounts of natural gas under its control, which guarantees virtually unlimited economic freedom. According to Qatargas, it has the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves after Russia and Iran.

It is this fabulous wealth that enables most subjects of the emirate to live in relative prosperity, unlike much of its manual workforce, mostly hired from poorer countries overseas. Liquid petroleum gas is also the fuel which funds the satellite TV network Al Jazeera. While not as influential in the region as it once was, it is still an important voice, and its programmes are watched by millions in the Arab world and beyond, thanks to its Al Jazeera English channel, which was launched in 2006.

Although a lot of the start-up talent behind Al Jazeera English were former BBC broadcasters and other journalists, its coverage of Palestine has been quite different to the BBC’s almost instinctive affinity for Israel. Al Jazeera English has been far more critical – and thus far more realistic – in its coverage of Israeli war crimes and racism in Palestine, to say nothing about the original Arabic-language Al Jazeera channel.

One factor in this is the reality that both channels draw extensively on Palestinian talent, both in front of and behind the cameras. It is often said that Palestinians are, per capita, the most educated people in the Arab world, and there is a long tradition of pan-Arab media organisations benefiting from the extensive talents of the the Palestinian diaspora.

Qatar’s foreign policy towards Israel has over the years been something of a mixed bag, in essentially trying to play both sides. While the state has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, it has at times opened secretive, back-door connections, including commercial ties.

On the other hand, the state has also hosted the leaders of some Palestinian political and resistance organisations in exile, including some from Hamas. Last year, though, something changed, resulting in Qatar’s open embrace of Israel.

That something was the Saudi-UAE blockade of their smaller neighbour, which has reportedly cost Qatar tens of millions of dollars since it was imposed. While the Trump administration has unconvincingly attempted to portray itself as a mediator between the Saudi/UAE side and the Qataris, US President Donald Trump’s notorious embrace of the Saudi tyrants shortly before the blockade, and his open agreement to their attempt — along with the Egyptian dictatorship —to single-out Qatar as the regional sponsor of terrorism gave a clear green light to the blockade.

The irony, of course, is that there is, in reality, no bigger regional sponsor of extremist jihadist groups like “Islamic State” and Al-Qaeda than Saudi Arabia. Trump’s endorsement, therefore, was far more about cynical self-interest; the interests of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to be exact. The latter reportedly tried and failed to raise a half-a-billion-dollar investment loan from Qatar not long before the blockade started. It was Kushner who, according to reports, then pushed Trump into a hard-line policy against the government in Doha.

Regardless of this, the blockade has had serious consequences for the country, and specifically for its relations with Israel. Since June last year, Qatar has sent an army of Washington DC lobbyists into action, paying millions of dollars in consultancy and other fees. Reuters reports that the total rose to $24 million in lobbying fees alone, almost the same as Saudi Arabia’s reported $25-million PR assault around about the same time.

Part of these efforts has involved Qatar’s embrace of some of America’s most extreme anti-Palestinian groups. The Qataris clearly see – not without reason – that a change in their policies regarding Israel is a way to cosy up to Trump. No doubt the reasoning is that it could help persuade Washington to reverse its policies against Qatar.

With one of Trump’s biggest donors being Sheldon Adelson, it is easy to see why. The hard-right Zionist casino billionaire is also one of America’s biggest donors to anti-Palestinian organisations, funding such groups as the Israel Project, Birthright Israel and the “Friends of the Israel Defence Forces”.

Asa Winstanley