Qatar can’t have it both ways

It has been almost 150 days since the deadly massacre in which 1,200 people were brutally murdered. But for many, the horror of Oct. 7 continues, as more than 130 hostages, some of them already dead, remain in captivity in Gaza. This is unacceptable.

In recent weeks, a growing number of European policymakers have started to demand an immediate release of the remaining hostages. It is no secret in any of the European capitals which stakeholder has the most leverage in the current hostage crisis: namely Qatar, which both hosts the political wing of the Hamas terrorist organization in Doha and finances its terrorist activities in Gaza.

Money is not an issue. The former British protectorate sits today on a vast investment portfolio across Europe and has growing political influence and soft power around the world. It is estimated that Qatar’s property portfolio in the United Kingdom alone is worth more than 10 billion pounds, and its total assets in Britain amount to over 40 billion, including stakes in Barclay Bank, British Airways, and Heathrow. France and Germany are not far behind. These investments include everything from high fashion brands to sports clubs, as well as a collection of well-known luxury hotels.

However, few Europeans have until now been aware of the fact that they are indirectly supporting international terrorism by buying Qatari-owned products. This may include the car they drive (Qatar has a 16% stake in Volkswagen), the hotel they stay in (French hotel chain Accor, the Ritz, and the Savoy in London), where they do their shopping (Harrods department store in London and Printemps in Paris), or the clothes they wear (Valentino, Balmain, etc.).

However, as President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has learned the hard way, being part of the Western world and its cultural and economic landscape comes with a price. You cannot suppress human rights at home and finance war and terrorism around the world while expecting to be considered a respectable corporate citizen. As more than 130 Israeli hostages still remain in captivity in Gaza, the eyes of the world are increasingly turning toward Qatar.

The Qatar brand is coming under closer scrutiny. In the United States, its massive, mostly undisclosed investments in elite universities are being exposed as a political risk, while in Europe, Qatar has had to terminate its sponsorship of Bayern Munich after protests from its supporters.

In a recent European Report talk show episode from the European Parliament in Brussels, Danish Member of the European Parliament Anders Vistisen pointed out that “Qatar cannot have this in-between position anymore but will have to choose sides, either to be part of the Western world or continue to side with Hamas.”

Dutch Member of the European Parliament Bert Jan Ruissen agrees. He says that the European Parliament is well aware of Qatar’s explicit support of Hamas, both financially and politically. He demands that the European Union must now make clear that support for Hamas and terrorism will affect Qatar’s relations with the EU.

Looking at the humanitarian side of the hostage crisis, former Finnish Minister of the Interior and Member of Parliament Paivi Rasanen has signed a petition that appeals directly to the mother of Qatar’s current emir, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, to use her influence to work for an immediate release of the remaining hostages. Other influential women in Europe, such as the former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Member of Parliament Anna Fotyga, have personally reached out to Sheika Moza to ask her to help bring about a release of the remaining hostages, including Polish-born historian Alex Danzyg.

Italian Sen. Lucio Malan notes that “the hostages may be widely forgotten in the media but not in the hearts of their loved ones and those who care for innocent lives.” He calls upon Qatari authorities to help facilitate a hostage deal as they are in a position to talk to both sides.

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The list of European decision-makers who are concerned about the stalemate in the current hostage negotiations and the questionable role of Qatar is long. This is especially true after the unraveling of “Qatargate,” the corruption scandal that rocked the European Parliament in December 2022. The affair resulted in the dismissal of the former vice president of the European Parliament Eva Kalli, who had received vast sums of cash from the Qataris to speak favorably about the kingdom ahead of the World Cup in 2022.

The clock is ticking for the remaining hostages in Gaza, but it’s also ticking for Qatar. The kingdom faced severe criticism for its domestic human rights record during the World Cup, but it remained largely unscathed. It is not certain that European policymakers and consumers will continue to look between their fingers if it can be established that Qatar is part of the problem in the Middle East and not the solution. The best way for Qatar to prove that it is a respectable part of the European cultural and economic landscape would be to help secure a hostage release now — before it is too late.

Tomas Sandell is a commentator on European politics. He has written extensively on EU-affairs since 1994.

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