Jan 24, 2024 - World

Qatar: Bibi's criticism of Doha's mediation efforts "destructive" to hostage talks

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Sebastian ScheinerGetty Images

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Sebastian ScheinerGetty Images

Qatar on Wednesday slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he was heard in a leaked recording earlier this week criticizing Doha's mediation efforts in the talks to secure the release of hostages being held in Gaza.

Why it matters: The public confrontation comes at a sensitive and delicate point in the mediation efforts Qatar and Egypt are conducting between Israel and Hamas in an attempt to get a new hostage deal.

Driving the news: Israel's Channel 12 on Tuesday published a recording of Netanyahu in a meeting with families of hostages held a day earlier.

  • In the recording, Netanyahu can be heard criticizing Qatar for not doing enough to press Hamas and said the U.S. should put more pressure on the government in Doha.
  • "You don't hear me thanking Qatar....it is because in many ways it is more problematic [than the UN and the Red Cross]," Netanyahu told the families.
  • Israeli officials claim Netanyahu's comments reflect the Israeli government's feeling that Qatar could do more to press Hamas to agree to a new hostage deal.

Netanyahu also said that he was angry when he found out that the Biden administration secretly renewed the contract with the Qatari government about the U.S. military presence at the al-Udeid military base without consulting with Israel first and without using it as leverage for the hostage issue.

  • A source with direct knowledge of the issue told Axios senior Qatari officials "fumed with anger" when they saw the reports about Netanyahu's comments.

What they're saying: "We are appalled by the alleged remarks attributed to the Israeli Prime Minister in various media reports about Qatar's mediation role. These remarks, if validated, are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives, but are not surprising," Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majid al-Ansary said in a statement.

  • The Qatari official said that following a successful mediation that led to the release of more than a hundred hostages, Doha has been engaged in dialogue with the negotiating parties including Israel, in an effort to establish the framework for a new hostage agreement.
  • "If the reported remarks are found to be true, the Israeli Prime Minister would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process, for reasons that appear to serve his political career instead of prioritizing saving innocent lives, including Israeli hostages," al-Ansari said.
  • "Instead of concerning himself with Qatar's strategic relations with the United States, we hope Netanyahu decides to operate in good faith and concentrate on the release of the hostages."

State of play: Senior Biden adviser Brett McGurk met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Doha on Tuesday and discussed the efforts to secure a deal for the release of hostages held in Gaza, a source with knowledge of the issue told me.

  • The source said Qatar updated both Israel and Hamas on Tuesday about each side's positions and is waiting for more input from both. Four Israeli, Arab and U.S. sources said the talks are focused on a two-month pause in the fighting in Gaza in return for the release of hostages.
  • One Israeli official told Axios that Hamas has hardened its position in recent days regarding a possible hostage deal.
  • McGurk discussed the hostage issue with Abbas Kamel, the director of Egyptian intelligence, earlier this week in Cairo. McGurk will visit Jodan on Thursday and meet King Abdullah. From Jordan, he will travel to the United Arab Emirates.
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