Despite strong Qatari criticism of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, US State Department officials said they expect Qatar to eventually normalize relations with Israel, though they could not provide a timetable.
During a teleconference briefing Thursday morning, Timothy Lenderking, deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf affairs, reminded attendees that Qatar had been the first Gulf nation to allow Israel to open an office in it capital, Doha.
Lenderking suggested Qatar was playing a more positive role than Turkey, which has publicly denounced normalization, although Qatari officials in recent days have said they would not normalize ties with Israel until the resolution of the Palestinian question.
“Qatar also engages with Israel and does so openly, and has done off and on for a number of years. We can point to Qatar’s resolution of a ceasefire here with Hamas and Israel two weeks ago: An excellent example of Qatari boutique diplomacy where they can use their influence and bring about a better situation,” Lenderking insisted.
“Our experience with Qataris who work on that file is that they are very open about those engagements with Israel. They have developed positive relationships with the Israeli officials involved and so we think there is a lot to build on. Every country will move at its own pace at normalization, and according to their own criteria. But we are eager for that to happen sooner rather than later because that does put more building blocks into the region for peace and stability.”
Criticism of the peace accords by Qatar’s state-controlled news media has been harsh, and news reports in the past year have shone a bright spotlight on Qatar’s ties to terrorist organizations, including alleged involvement in funding terrorist attacks that have taken American lives.
Lenderking brushed off controversies surrounding any terrorist ties, which include several lawsuits that name Qatar’s royal family as funding attacks that took the lives or injured as many as 10 Americans in Israel.
A Boston lawsuit filed by six contractors alleged that Sheikh Khaled Al-Thani, the brother of Qatar’s ruling Emir Sheikh Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, ordered them to kill rivals in the US and in Bahrain.
Originally filed in Florida in June 2019 and re-filed in Boston in January 2020, the individuals claimed Sheikh Khaled murdered an Indian national, threatened them all with death if they did not kill the Sheikh’s rivals, and directed a campaign of computer hacking of his racing car industry rivals in the US and Bahrain.
In another lawsuit, filed June 10, 2020, Qatar’s royal family was accused of funding violence by Hamas, resulting in the killing and maiming of 10 Americans.
The lawsuit filed in New York City accuses several Qatari institutions, including Qatar Charity (formerly known as the Qatar Charitable Society) and Qatar National Bank, of funding violence against Americans in Israel, many with both dual US and Israeli citizenship.
Both lawsuits are in the US federal court system, moving towards public trials.
But Lenderking did not mention the lawsuits or other controversies, and instead offered a defense of Qatar’s position to not normalize relations with Israel.
“It is very much our hope and our intention that all of the countries of the Middle East, not just the Gulf, will normalize with Israel,” he said.
“We think a lot is made about Qatar’s being soft on terrorism. That isn’t actually accurate. We have a very vigorous terrorism engagement with Qatar that I would say has stepped up and got stronger in the last couple of years partly because of the embargo and because of strong US engagement focusing on key areas that may have been weaknesses in the Qatari system before. We know there is more room for improvement. We are confident we are going to see continued improvement over the course of the next year.”
Lenderking added Qatar had tied its criticism to resolving the Palestinian conflict, as have many other Arab nations have done.
“Of course, we have seen the reaction for the Palestinians to the normalization efforts,” Lenderking said. “It is very much our hope that the Palestinians, rather than being discouraged and deflated by this will find it as an opportunity and work with us to return to the negotiating table. It remains a priority for the US.”
On June 5, 2017, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed all diplomatic relations with Qatar and banned their airlines and ships from using GCC airspace or sea routes.
Lenderking argued if the UAE and Bahrain could normalize ties with Israel, the rift between the GCC and Qatar could be resolved, too.
“The future from our point of view looks very bright. There is still the menace of Iran. And I think we need … the Gulf countries to join together and unify to end the Gulf rift and focus more on the common challenges and common threats,” Lenderking advised, adding that the US would not push Qatar to sign a normalization with Israel.
“We didn’t pressure the Emirates to sign with Israel. We didn’t pressure Bahrain to sign with Israel. They are doing this of their own accord recognizing their own national interests,” Lenderking said.
“We do anticipate and hope other countries will be coming forward in the near future. The Abraham Accords have shown potential to ignite new diplomatic possibilities and partnerships.”