Last updated: 20 May, 2012

Qatar emir urges Israel to choose peace

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, on Sunday urged Israel’s coalition government to opt for peace and not bet on Arab leaders against their people amid sweeping Arab Spring uprisings.

“I call on Israel to take a positive step in favour of peace and coexistence,” Sheikh Hamad told a Doha conference.

Israel “can no longer count on the friendship of leaders who were toppled by Arab Spring revolts and it should also not bet on others against their people,” he said, in a possible reference to Syria, as some in Israel voiced fear that a regime change in Damascus could be worse for the security of Israel.

If it does, Israel “will definitely find itself within a short period without any friends at all,” he said.

Qatar has taken a hawkish stance in favour of the rebellion in Israel’s neighbour Syria, against President Bashar al-Assad, which broke out in March last year.

Sheikh Hamad, whose country lent the support of its air force to NATO-led operations in Libya and deployed ground troops, has repeatedly called for arming Syrian rebels and for sending Arab and foreign troops to the unrest-hit country.

Arab Spring uprisings began in Tunisia late in 2010 toppling its strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and sparked a string of revolts in the region that ousted three other autocrats, including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who had strong links with Tel Aviv.

Sheikh Hamad said the coalition between the Likud party of Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu and the centre-right Kadima, which was announced earlier this month, gives the Israeli leader a strong footing to make concessions for peace.

“The head of the Israeli government has managed to create the largest and strongest coalition throughout his country’s history… so he could no longer argue that the fragile government’s coalition does not allow flexibility and concessions,” said the Qatari leader.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Israel’s two leading parties sent “a very strong signal” to revive peace talks with the Palestinians when they formed a coalition government.

“I call from this forum for the Arab Spring to be accompanied by just peace in the Middle East,” said the leader of the gas-rich country.

Qatar was the only Gulf state to have relations with Israel before ties were severed during Operation Cast Lead — Israel’s massive 22-day assault on Gaza — at the end of December 2008.

In March 2011, Israel took steps to cut all remaining ties and shut down the delegation’s offices in Qatar.