Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently held secret meetings with the Qatari envoy to Gaza to discuss the ongoing situation in the besieged enclave, the Times of Israel has revealed.
The meetings reportedly took place two months ago, on 22 June, on the island of Cyprus. Lieberman is said to have met with Mohamed Al-Emadi, the Qatari envoy, at Larnaca airport while attending a summit with the Cypriot and Greek defence ministers that was being held on the island.
The pair reportedly reviewed the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip. The meetings also discussed the return of two soldiers killed during Israel’s 2014 “Operation Protective Edge” and two Israeli civilians lost in Gaza, which is expected to be part of any upcoming ceasefire arrangement. Qatar also pledged $350 million to humanitarian projects in Gaza as part of any deal.
The Times of Israel speculates that the meeting may have been kept secret “because Israel has publicly rejected Qatari mediation between itself and Hamas, preferring the Egyptian channel.” An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal has been under fervent discussion in recent months, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Cairo in May to discuss the proposed agreement. A number of Palestinian factions have also visited the Egyptian capital to participate in the discussions.
Despite the public Israeli preference for an Egyptian-brokered deal, i24 news adds that Israel “has sought to maintain Qatar’s involvement given its enthusiasm to pour funding into humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip.” i24 adds that “Qatar is one of the largest donors to the Strip and has funded a significant proportion of the rebuilding of infrastructure” damaged in Israel’s 2014 assault on the enclave.
In July, the Qatari Committee to Rebuild Gaza announced that positions were available for Palestinian teachers from Gaza to work in the Gulf state. Al-Emadi said the initiative should be seen as “part of the Qatari efforts being exerted to help the Palestinian people at all levels in Gaza in the light of the sharp rise of the unemployment rate.” In May, Qatar pledged 50 million Qatari riyals ($13.7 million) to the Gaza Strip in a bid to offset the deficit caused by the Palestinian Authority’s lack of salary payments to residents in Gaza.
Al-Emadi also criticised the US role in any future development of the occupied Palestinian territories, telling Al Jazeera in July he believed the Trump administration has “nothing to offer” the occupied West Bank. Al-Emadi referred to a recent visit to Doha by senior White House officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, saying that “the Americans are thinking that they must solve the problems in Gaza first then go to the West Bank.”
Despite positioning itself as a benefactor of the Palestinian people, Qatar has also fostered close relations with Israel. In July, Electronic Intifada revealed that Qatar has donated $250,000 to pro-Israel organisations in the US. The organisations included the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA), Our Soldiers Speak and Blue Diamond Horizons Inc., a company run by Christian Zionist Mike Huckabee. It is believed the funds were donated in order to encourage “dialogue with [the] Jewish community abroad and in the United States.”