(CNSNews.com) – On a day when Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to his Qatari counterpart by phone “numerous times” in efforts to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a Republican lawmaker sent him a letter challenging “the State Department’s active partnership with Qatar.”
The department for days has been defending its intensive engagement with Hamas-supporting Qatar and Turkey, arguing that the two governments have leverage with the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip.
Kerry, currently in India, announced late Thursday that “all parties” had agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire, beginning on Friday morning local time. His statement also thanked “key regional stakeholders for their vital support of this process.”
Before he joined the Obama administration, then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Kerry (D-Mass.) spoke out against Qatar’s relationship with Hamas.
“Qatar,” he told a Brookings Institution audience on March 4, 2009, “can’t continue to be an American ally on Monday that sends money to Hamas on Tuesday.”
“All Arab nations must increase their efforts at this critical juncture,” he said in the same speech. “The most vital and immediate contribution the Arab community can make right now is frankly to pressure Hamas to stop firing rockets …”
In a letter to Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew Thursday, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said he strongly supports efforts to quell the violence, “but U.S. cooperation with Qatar at the very same time they are providing material aid and support to an active and ferociously violent terrorist organization only serves to tacitly endorse and encourage this unacceptable behavior.”
Roskam raised questions about the applicability of American sanctions legislation, and pointed to allegations made by a senior U.S. Treasury Department official last March about the wealthy Gulf state’s support both for Hamas and for jihadists in Syria.
“The severity of the current conflict and possibility for even greater escalation underscores why we must hold Qatar and all those who sponsor terrorism accountable for these reprehensible crimes rather than look the other way as Doha enables terrorism against Israel,” he concluded.
Qatar’s financial and political backing for Hamas is well known. Its former emir bestowed legitimacy upon the group in 2012 by becoming the first world leader to visit Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in violent clashes with Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in 2007.
Qatar has also given hundreds of millions of dollars to Gaza’s Hamas administration, and since 2012 has provided a safe haven to its exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal.
Israel is leery too about the role Kerry has given Turkey, whose Islamist prime minister is another key supporter of Hamas, and has repeatedly equated Israel’s conduct to that of the Nazis.
Kerry last weekend met with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Paris. He drew accusations from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority that he was promoting Hamas’ demands, as articulated by the group’s two close allies, at the expense of an earlier Egyptian ceasefire initiative that had been accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas. The State Department pushed back strongly against the criticism.
Despite acknowledging multiple phone conversations between Kerry and al-Attiyah – including three times on Wednesday and “numerous times” on Thursday – as well as many calls between Kerry and Davutoglu, the State Department rejects the notion that Kerry is relying on Qatar and Turkey.
“We’re not relying on them,” spokeswoman Maria Harf said on Wednesday. “The Egyptians have the lead in this process here. But look, there are only a number of countries that have any influence with Hamas, and we need to get them to yes, to have a ceasefire. Does that mean we talk to the Turks and the Qataris? It’s not about trust; it’s about getting a terrorist organization to agree to a ceasefire. That’s a complicated thing to do.”
Asked about an Israeli perception that there is no difference between negotiating with Hamas and negotiating with Qatar, Harf said, “I would strongly disagree with that.”
The engagement with Qatar and Turkey was also put under the spotlight Thursday by retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who in an article for the Gatestone Institute said the two countries “should be treated as pariahs” unless and until they stop sponsoring and facilitating terrorism.
“I do not fault Secretary of State Kerry for trying to use Qatar and Turkey to pressure Hamas into accepting a deal, although the deal they ultimately came up with [last weekend] was a bad one,” he said.
“My point is that Qatar’s wealth and Turkey’s size should not preclude us from telling it as it is: Qatar and Turkey are among the worst villains in the Gaza tragedy.”