The role that Qatar played in the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Bader Al-Saif, a history professor at Kuwait University, about the role that Qatar is playing as a broker in the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The role that Qatar played in the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas

The role that Qatar played in the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas

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NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Bader Al-Saif, a history professor at Kuwait University, about the role that Qatar is playing as a broker in the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A four-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas will begin tomorrow morning. If all goes according to plan, over those four days, Hamas will release 50 women and children held as hostages, and Israel will release 150 Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli jails. Humanitarian aid will also enter Gaza. Those details came today from the Foreign Ministry of Qatar. Majid Al Ansari is a ministry spokesman.

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MAJID AL ANSARI: No matter how much aid you are going to bring in, there will be certainly more need for aid, but we are hoping to bring in as much as possible within the confines of the deal. And, of course, our aim is for this deal to end with a lasting truce.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk more about the role that Qatar is playing as a broker in this deadly conflict with Bader Al-Saif, a history professor at Kuwait University. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BADER AL-SAIF: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: What stood out to you in that announcement today from the Qatari Foreign Ministry?

AL-SAIF: The announcement today is really the towering of weeks of discussions and mediation efforts that Qatar has led, along with its partners, Egypt and the U.S. particularly. It's, you know, a small glimmer of hope in a very bleak chapter in the region's history. I felt that there was a lot of care and attention in the details. The word truce pops up in between, as if meeting a middle ground between all parties. There were two pillars that were announced - the exchange of women and minors, and there is also the humanitarian aid. The logistics behind it is what's most important here.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

AL-SAIF: How will the Qataris realize that the deal doesn't get disrupted within those four days?

SHAPIRO: And let me also ask you about the ambition for a larger deal. We heard the spokesman say, our aim is for this deal to end with a lasting truce. On a scale from, we've got the paperwork; we just need to sign it, all the way to, on the other end - this is wishful thinking; it's not going to happen - like, how real do you think it is that this could lead to something bigger, more ambitious, longer-lasting?

AL-SAIF: I mean, look. It's going to head there anyway. The question is, when will that happen? You remember from the Israeli rhetoric in the past few weeks there was a stubborn take from the Israeli government that there will not be any kind of cease-fire until they destruct Hamas. That was the intended goal. And here we are today, and we are going into a truce in a few hours. So it says something about us being able to manage the situation. I think we stand at a 50/50 chance. It takes a lot of pressure from all parties. And let's not forget this is a small number of the hostages that Hamas has.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

AL-SAIF: We're talking 50 out of close to 240. So there is an incentive from the Israeli side to continue with this process.

SHAPIRO: We've talked before with you about the role of Qatar in these negotiations, but I've just been wondering logistically how they actually work. It's not as though Egypt, the U.S., Qatar, Israel and Hamas are all hopping on a Zoom. Can you tell us anything about how the back-and-forth happens?

AL-SAIF: Oh, if we can do things on Zoom, life would be so much easier.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

AL-SAIF: I think where Qatar stands to benefit the most among those different partners is that it hosts Hamas upon U.S. request that was made close to a decade ago.

SHAPIRO: It hosts them. They have an office in Qatar.

AL-SAIF: They have an office in Qatar. Qatar is playing the shuttle role between Hamas and its personnel and between the other interlocutors, whether it's the Americans, the Egyptians and the Israelis. And, mind you, even within Hamas, they're also having their different communications within them. That's not quite clear to everyone because a few days ago, there was a quiet pause in where the deal is because they couldn't reach the person of the military wing in Gaza from Hamas. And then when they heard back from him, they were able to move ahead because, if you remember, they needed the list of names of hostages. They wanted to verify that they're fine and alive and to compare it with the list that's going to be coming on the prisoners' side from Israel. So it's not a quite direct communication. It's multilayered, and it involves various steps. Central to all of this is the Qatari role.

SHAPIRO: Qatar has played a version of this role between Western powers and Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan. Do you think its role in this war, in this mediation has changed Qatar's position in Middle East diplomacy?

AL-SAIF: If there is any change, Ari, it's about them becoming a more prolific, credible mediator. This is not only about dealing with Middle East issues, which has been the case in this conflict. But as you've listed from the various cases and examples, it has stretched across to other conflicts. I think with time, they've been able to perfect their manual, if you may, their operations. And the logistics that comes with it will help, hopefully, strike a longer-term deal not only in Palestine and Israel but hopefully in other places. And it's quite interesting because Qatar, as you know, is one of the smallest countries in the region in terms of population size. But it's been able to play that outsized role basically due to its, A, ambition, B, its financial assets. It's one of the richest in the region. And third, it feels that it can provide something to contribute to the peace and security. You cannot have prosperity if there is a war in your backyard. So there is also some self-interest in all of this.

SHAPIRO: Whenever this war ends, be that days, weeks or months from now, do you think it will likely be thanks to talks through Qatar?

AL-SAIF: Qatar will very likely play a very key role in all of this. But let me tell you something. Without the U.S., we cannot expect much change to happen because they're the ones who hold leverage against Israel. My expectation is if they want this to be sustainable, they need to plan from now about the day after when it comes to peace negotiations. A two-state solution is a must. It has been delayed more than once. We cannot go back to a war in the region every few years because of this intractable conflict and disagreements and opinions. That's what needs to be done.

SHAPIRO: That's Bader Al-Saif, a professor of history at Kuwait University. Thank you very much.

AL-SAIF: Thank you.

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