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Qatar has accused Benjamin Netanyahu of being “irresponsible and destructive”, saying leaked remarks by the Israeli prime minister criticising the Gulf state risked undermining efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.
Doha, which has been leading the diplomacy to broker a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, was reacting to a recording of a meeting between Netanyahu and relatives of Israeli hostages aired on Israel’s Channel 12 this week. The long-serving prime minister can be heard calling Qatar a “problematic” intermediary and urging the families to increase international pressure on Doha.
“You don’t hear me thanking Qatar. Have you noticed? I don’t thank Qatar. Why? Because for me, Qatar is essentially no different from the UN, it is essentially no different from the Red Cross and in a way it is even . . . more problematic,” Netanyahu said. “But I’m ready to use any actor right now that helps me bring [the hostages] home. I have no illusions about them.”
Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari said that, if true, the comments “would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process, for reasons that appear to serve his political career instead of prioritising saving innocent lives, including Israeli hostages”.
In a statement on X late on Wednesday, Ansari added: “These remarks if validated, are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives, but are not surprising.”
Netanyahu also said he was “very angry” with the US after the Biden administration this month renewed its contract for the use of the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, saying the decision squandered Washington’s leverage over Doha.
“I didn’t hide it from the Americans . . . First of all, put pressure on Qatar,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister’s comments come as he faces increasing domestic pressure to do more to secure the hostages’ release.
Qatar has been mediating between Israel and Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack triggered the war. More than 1,200 people were killed in the attack, according to Israel, and Palestinian militants seized about 240 hostages.
Doha, which hosts Hamas’s political office, was the lead broker of a temporary truce late last year that facilitated the release of more than 100 women and children held captive in Gaza. In return, Israel released 240 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons and allowed more aid into the battered Palestinian territory.
In recent weeks, Qatar, Egypt and the US have been working to secure a longer truce as part of a multiphase hostage-prisoner exchange agreement.
The latest Qatari proposal includes a pause in hostilities in Gaza for about a month, during which Hamas would release the approximately 136 remaining hostages in exchange for Israel freeing Palestinian prisoners over three phases, said a person briefed on the negotiations.
But the talks are stuck on the issue of Israel’s refusal to use a new deal to work towards a permanent ceasefire — something Hamas insists would have to be part of any agreement.
A Qatari official said the spat over Netanyahu’s comments would not affect the mediation efforts.
“Qatar would never jeopardise or hurt the mediations because of differences with individuals,” the person said. “The mediation is about saving the lives of the hostages and of Palestinian civilians and not about politicians.”
International pressure has been mounting on Israel to agree a ceasefire as its offensive on Gaza has killed more than 25,000 people, according to Palestinian officials, and reduced swaths of the strip to rubble-strewn wastelands.