Since 7 October, Israelis and Palestinians have been caught up in a new and unprecedented cycle of violence. This is the first time that the Hamas terrorist organisation has crossed the borders of the Gaza Strip to kill nearly 1,400 Israelis and take 220 of them hostage. It was the first time that an organisation fighting against the Jewish state had committed such a violent and bloody act. It was inevitable that the Israeli reprisals would be counted a hundredfold. Three weeks after the tragedy, the bombardment of Gaza has claimed more than 7,000 lives, including at least 3,000 children. Even if Netanyahu wants to raze Gaza to the ground and continue to kill thousands of Palestinian civilians, we must continue to defend the ceasefire as soon as possible and the release of the hostages.
In a context where multilateralism is largely powerless and the West is increasingly rejected as a means of resolving conflicts, who can help to put an end to the weapons and bring about a return to peace in the Middle East? It’s still a fragile peace, but the urgent thing is to stop the deaths and the bloodshed. For several years now, it has been the regional players who have been regaining control of their zone of influence or perfecting their mediation skills in order to have an influence in a tense context of war. At this stage, while many Arab countries have either signed peace agreements with Israel, signed normalisation agreements or given up the fight for the Palestinian state, few Muslim countries can play the mediation card by maintaining relations with the two protagonists in the conflict.
Indeed, few countries are in a position to play the role of peace mediators. Apart from Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, it is Qatar, which has a direct relationship with Israel and Hamas, that seems best placed to achieve a ceasefire as quickly as possible and the maximum possible release of the hostages before Israel finishes destroying Gaza to eliminate Hamas. Several hostages have recently been released by the Islamist organisation and have returned to Israel. This is just the beginning and it is Qatar’s success.
Doha has been funding the salaries of civil servants in Gaza for 17 years, in agreement with Israel, to avoid the collapse and death of thousands of Gazans. The people of Gaza have been living in terrible conditions, cut off from the world, since Egypt and the Hebrew state decided to impose a blockade against the Palestinian enclave. The Hebrew state made this choice to avoid chaos and because it wouldn’t cost it a shekel. How did Qatar end up hosting Hamas leaders in Doha, enabling it to negotiate directly with them today? A Hamas office opened in the Qatari capital in 2012 at the request of Washington and Tel Aviv. The leaders of Hamas, Khaled Meechal, its former leader, and Ismaël Haniyeh, its political leader in Gaza, are in Doha because it was the Americans and Israelis who pushed Qatar to host them so that it could negotiate directly with them when the time came. Qatar has become a buffer state between the West and the unmentionables.
And Doha has acquired real expertise in freeing hostages from Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Eritrea and so on. Many of them were Westerners. As recently as mid-October, Doha helped free Ukrainian children in Russia! But the Qatari mediation strategy is also being used to achieve a number of ceasefires at the heart of several violent conflicts around the world: Yemen, Sudan, Chad, Israel, Djibouti and Eritrea. With over 200 hostages still held in Gaza, will Israel launch the final struggle to destroy Hamas and sacrifice the hostages? The countdown is on.
There is no certainty at this stage, but Qatar must be allowed to continue negotiating so that the remaining hostages can return home safe and sound. There is time for war, but there is still some hope that there will be time for diplomacy beforehand: this is also in Israel’s interest. And diplomacy afterwards to calm relations between the belligerents as quickly as possible and try to return the situation to some form of “normality”. Because no one at this stage is prepared to go back to the causes on either side of the current chaos.