President Barack Obama on Tuesday will meet with the leader of Qatar, a country long accused of supporting terrorism.
The White House meeting was scheduled even as Obama has refused meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he is in Washington exactly one week later, citing the proximity to Israeli elections.
In its announcement Friday, the White House said Obama and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani would work to further the “longstanding partnership” between the two countries and “our shared interest in supporting stability and prosperity in the Middle East.”
While Qatar has allowed coalition forces to use its al-Udeid air base for airstrikes against Islamic State targets, its approach to Islamist terrorism has not been quite that clear-cut.
The Persian Gulf country last week criticized Egypt for launching airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Libya in retaliation for the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians and even recalled its ambassador from Cairo.
According to the Times of Israel, the emirate has sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Gaza since 2007, when Hamas wrested control of the seaside strip from the Palestinian Authority and has supported Hamas diplomatically.
The Times of Israel noted that in 2012, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who was then the Qatari emir, was the first head of state to visit Gaza once it fell to Hamas rule.
The Israeli government has lambasted Qatar for supporting terrorism and for allowing Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to use Qatar as his base.
Former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror told the Times of Israel in July that Qatar continues to fund Hamas’s terror infrastructure, though the emirate denies that charge.
In December, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) urged the U.S. Treasury Department to do more to thwart support for terrorism emerging from Qatar and Turkey.
“It’s no secret that Turkey and Qatar provide refuge to many Hamas operatives, and that both of these supposed American allies have become major terror financial hubs,” the members of Congress wrote. “Both Turkey and Qatar have thus far been extremely lax in enforcing their terror financing laws and taking action against U.S. designated individuals or entities. By going after those individuals and entities tied to support for Hamas, Treasury can send a strong message to both governments that they need to get on board and sanction entities that are supporting terrorism or risk further isolation from America and our financial sector.”
Besides the issue of terror financing, Qatar has offered moral and religious support for the most extreme interpretations of Islam. The Daily Beast on Thursday examined the state-funded mosque the Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Masjid Doha, which it called “a fountain of hate.”
“U.S. officials say Qatar has now replaced its neighbor Saudi Arabia as the source of the largest private donations to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliates,” the Daily Beast reported.
The outlet reported that the Friday before the Islamic State group posted the video showing the burning to death of the Jordanian pilot, an imam preaching from the Qatari Grand Mosque prayed for the destruction of non-Muslims.
“Allah, strengthen Islam and the Muslims, and destroy your enemies, the enemies of the religion,” Saudi cleric Sa’ad Ateeq al Ateeq said. “Allah, destroy the Jews and whoever made them Jews, and destroy the Christians and Alawites and the Shiites.”
The Daily Beast reported that a Qatari government ministry promoted the preacher’s remarks on Twitter, and it was broadcast on the official state channel Qatar TV.
David Andrew Weinberg of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who discovered the video of al Ateeq’s sermon, told the Daily Beast: “The emirate shows one face to the international community projecting a desire to help in the fight against terrorist organizations, while providing a platform for the preaching in their own backyard of the same kind of hate-filled extremism of ISIS.”
A report came out Friday that further emphasized the vastly different treatment offered to the head of closest U.S. ally in the Middle East, who is on the front line of the fight against terrorism, and the leader of the emirate.
On the same day the White House announced the Qatari meeting, the Associated Press reported that the White House was seeking other “ways to undercut” Netanyahu’s trip to the U.S. and was “doubling down on a cold-shoulder strategy” including sending top cabinet members out of the country when Netanyahu is in town and during the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC.
After Netanyahu’s visit was announced, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry announced they would be out of town while the Israeli leader is in Washington.
Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to speak to a joint session of Congress to warn against the potentially imminent negotiated deal with Iran, which Israel believes will legitimize Iran as a nuclear threshold state. The White House saw the Republican invitation of Netanyahu as a breach of diplomatic protocol.