The Qatari diplomat also discussed his country’s role in the Afghan peace process and the latest developments in Kabul.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani ruled out plans to normalise with Israel, saying the controversial Abraham Accords doesn’t align with Doha’s foreign policy.
“This is our foreign policy, we see that the core of the issue is the occupation. So as long as there is no prospect for ending that occupation and having a fair and just solution, I don’t see Qatar taking such a step for normalisation,” said Sheikh Mohammed during the fourth annual Global Security Forum in Doha on Wednesday.
The official also said Israel’s behaviour does not indicate its willingness to reach a peaceful resolution with Palestinians, though he said Doha has maintained relations with Tel Aviv to facilitate necessary assistance to Palestinians and resolve escalations.
In recent months, Qatar has played a pivotal role in delivering much needed aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and has also coordinated with Egypt to reach a ceasefire that ended a deadly 11-day Israeli offensive in May that killed at least 260 Palestinians including 66 children.
With the ongoing occupation of Palestine remaining a key principle in Qatar’s foreign policy, the Gulf state has continued to urge the international community to work towards a just settlement in Jerusalem.
Responding to a comment on the changes of policies within the new Israeli Naftali Bennett administration in comparison to the former Benjamin Netanyahu government, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar has yet to witness “real steps” taken to reach a settlement.
“We are just talking about alleviating the economic situation there with the Palestinians, which is part of the problem but not the core of problem. The core of the problem is political, as long as the peace process is not addressed, you cannot just count on economic normalisation,” he said.
“It is an occupation that needs to end,” added the Qatari diplomat.
In 2020, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, triggered outrage across the Arab world after announcing diplomatic relations with Israel. Sudan followed suit soon after despite widespread resistance, opposition and protests on the ground.
Sheikh Mohammed’s bold statements come as reports point towards plans by US President Joe Biden’s to expand the controversial normalisation drive.
Earlier this month, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said his country is currently negotiating normalisation agreements with other countries, though failed to disclose further information.
Qatar has also been playing a key mediating role in the Afghan peace process over the years. However, talks in Doha came to an end after former President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan as the Taliban captured control on 15 August.
Since then the Gulf country has taken on a more humanitarian role by evacuating thousands of Afghans and foreigners from the country while continuing to facilitate talks between the Taliban and western powers in Doha.
Sheikh Mohammed said the new Taliban-led interim government is focusing on “finding a way forward” amid all the latest developments, stressing the need for the international community to come together to support Afghans throughout the crisis.
“We should unify our vision in dealing with Afghanistan. Part of the challenge we are facing right now is there is no clear platform where the international community can come with the active players to agree on a unified road map and way forward,” he said.
Responding to a question over the difference between the old and the new Taliban, Sheikh Mohammed said that while he has seen a change in “attitude and mindset”, the two factors still do not signify “real change”.
“The real change would be the genuine steps taken on the ground and I think what we are waiting for are actions, but we cannot just depend on actions taken by the Taliban without providing them with guidance as an international community,” he said.
Since seizing power militarily, the Taliban has made a range of promises in a bid to rebrand itself to the world. These included vows to protect the rights of women and girl as well as assuring a more moderate rule.
However, actions on the ground have since proved to show otherwise. So far, girls have been banned from joining their male counterparts at schools. At university level, women and men have been segregated with curtains, while Taliban rules on women working remain vague.
This, compounded with the fact that the new interim government comprises of members of the Taliban and loyalists, including officials who are under sanctions, has led to major hesitancy from world powers.
“It’s not about they have friends or enemies. I think the whole world now is engaging with them from a different lens. As Qatar has been a mediator in that process, we are dealing impartially,” said the foreign minister.
The US has come under public criticism for its handling of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan without presenting a proper peace plan nor an adequate strategy that would serve the interest of Afghans in the country.
Afghanistan is currently struggling with a humanitarian and economic crisis following years of war and drought in the country. This has been further exacerbated with the freezing of much-needed assets from the central bank.
Commenting on the funds, Qatar’s foreign minister said there is still no clear path for unfreezing the assets.
However, a virtual G20 meeting meeting held on Tuesday saw the European Union pledge a major aid package designed “to avert a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse”.
Since the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration on 5 January this year, Qatar has been playing a key diplomatic role in the region, among which is calling for dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
During the forum on Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar is encouraging positive momentum between the two countries amid reports of talks to ease tensions.
“Our aim is to reach a regional security understanding between the GCC and Iran. Iran is our neighbour, Iran is a player in our region and we cannot deny it,” he said, reiterating the importance of engaging with the Islamic Republic.
When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar in 2017, the quartet demanded that Doha cuts its ties with Iran.
However, talks between Riyadh and Tehran in the aftermath of the GCC reconciliation suggest a change in tune.
“We have seen what happened in the GCC.. there’s no winner out of this crisis and all GCC leaders believe we have lost in this and we lost a lot of time during that crisis,” he said.
The Iran nuclear deal has also been among the most important files in Qatar’s foreign policy, with the Gulf state continuously reiterating the importance of returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] following the US withdrawal in 2018.
“We are going to provide any assistance or support needed by the parties. We are talking and engaging with Iran, encouraging them to go back to the deal,” he said, revealing that Doha has long encouraged the Trump administration to restore the historic accord.