US official predicts Qatar will eventually normalize ties with Israel

Timothy Lenderking is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs in the Near East Bureau at the U.S. Department of State. (Screengrab YouTube)
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Updated 18 September 2020

US official predicts Qatar will eventually normalize ties with Israel

  • Lenderking suggested Qatar was playing a more positive role than Turkey, which has publicly denounced normalization
  • Lenderking argued if the UAE and Bahrain could normalize ties with Israel, the rift between the GCC and Qatar could be resolved, too

CHICAGO: 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.”


Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

Updated 31 October 2020

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

  • Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms
  • Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces prevented the arrival of hundreds of protesters at the French ambassador’s residence and the French Embassy in Lebanon on Friday.

They feared the recurrence of riots similar to the ones that erupted in front of the Danish Embassy in Ashrafieh, Beirut, in 2006, and led to 28 people being injured, damage to storefronts, and the burning of the consulate building and terrorizing of people.

A few hundred worshippers left mosques after Friday prayers and marched to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms.

Khaldoun Qawwas, Dar Al-Fatwa’s media spokesperson, told Arab News: “These groups have nothing to do with Dar Al-Fatwa, which has already announced its position regarding what happened in France in two separate statements.”

Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan, the grand mufti of Lebanon, in a statement issued a week earlier, said that “freedom of opinion and expression does not entail insulting the beliefs and symbols of others, and this requires a reconsideration of the concept of absolute freedom.”

He stressed the “renunciation of violence and confrontation of radicalism and terrorism that has no religion or race.”

Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut, since the embassy and the French ambassador’s residence are located where roads leading to the city’s western and eastern neighborhoods intersect. This led to a huge traffic jam in the capital.

The protest’s starting point was the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque in Al-Mazraa, situated only a few kilometers from the Residence des Pins (Pine Residence).

Three major security checkpoints — one set up by the riot police — separated the Residence des Pins and protesters, some of whom were transported by buses from the north of Lebanon to Beirut.

Protesters held Islamic signs and chanted slogans denouncing France, its President Emmanuel Macron and its former colonization of the country. Some protesters tried to remove barbed wire and threw stones, water bottles and batons at the security forces. Another group burned the French flag. Security forces responded by throwing tear gas canisters, leading to the retreat of the protesters.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of the Roman Catholic condemned “the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.”

The council considered that “this terrorist crime has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. It is an individual act carried out by terrorists haunted by radicalism, obscurantism and the rejection of the French people’s historical civilizational values. Through their acts, they abuse the spirit of tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other and the freedom of thought and belief which all religions call for.”

The council called for “staying away from defaming religions and beliefs and inciting hate and resentment among people, raising the voice of moderation, wisdom and reason, working together in the spirit of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together announced by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb from the UAE last year.”

During the Friday sermon, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan condemned “any criminal act against any people, including the French people.” He added: “We categorically reject what happened in Nice yesterday, strongly condemn it and consider it a blatant and insolent attack on Muslims before others.”

He simultaneously condemned “the official French position that affronted the Prophet, took lightly and made light of the feelings of millions of Muslims.”