The last days of Hamas’ office in Qatar?

The last days of Hamas’ office in Qatar?

After Hamas releases all of its hostages, the Biden administration will consider demanding that Qatar shutter the militant groups’ office in the country.

Such a move, if executed, would be a significant reprimand for Hamas and an embarrassment for Qatar, the non-NATO ally that has served as a conduit for hostage talks with the militants.

For the moment, the U.S. is directing all efforts at securing the release of the remaining hostages, supporting Israel’s retaliation and improving humanitarian conditions in Gaza. But serious internal talks on whether to make the demand of Qatar is expected, three U.S. officials told NatSec Daily, and early indications are Hamas will have to find a new home.

“We have made clear that following Oct. 7 there can be no more business as usual with Hamas,” said a senior administration official, granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter. “This is a discussion we will continue to have with partners in the region.”

But there’s a gnawing fear that closing Hamas’ political outpost would complicate any future backchannel between the U.S., Israel and the group.

The civil war in Syria forced Hamas to move its political leadership to Qatar in 2012. The arrangement has long come under scrutiny, as some suggest the tiny Middle Eastern country is too cozy with Hamas and Iran and should be reprimanded for those relationships.

“The time has come for an honest reflection on the role Qatar played in building up Hamas and the steps that will need to be taken to dismantle all Qatari support for Hamas going forward,” said RICHARD GOLDBERG, a former Trump National Security Council official now at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. In addition to ensuring the office’s closure, Goldberg suggests stripping Qatar of its non-NATO ally status or designating it a state sponsor of terrorism.

Qatar has long argued such stances are unfair. MESHAL BIN HAMAD AL THANI, the country’s ambassador in the U.S., wrote in an October Wall Street Journal op-ed that the office relocated there “after a request from Washington to establish indirect lines of communication with Hamas.”

If the U.S. asked for the Hamas office to operate in Qatar, it could effectively order it closed and have its leadership ejected. Qatar, home to a major American military airbase, could reject the demand, but U.S. officials and experts argue Doha would grant Washington’s wish.

That’s not what Qatari officials are saying in public, however. “This channel has been very instrumental in countless deescalations that took place,” MAJED BIN MOHAMMAD AL ANSAR, spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign affairs ministry, told CNN last month. “As long as this channel is useful in creating peace, we have to have it, we can’t afford to lose it.”

U.S. officials find the channel important, too, and it has proven crucial in seeing about a third of Hamas-held hostages released in recent days. Some expressed fear to NatSec Daily that Hamas, if kicked out, could find a home in a more hostile country like Syria or Iran. The group could still keep the lines of communication open, but in either case it would require the U.S. to work with designated state sponsors of terrorism to engage a designated foreign terrorist organization.

But those concerns aren’t overpowering a sense in Washington that the status quo is unsustainable.

Sen. TED BUDD (R-N.C.) argued Tuesday that after the hostage crisis is resolved, Hamas’ leadership in Qatar “should be extradited to the United States, so that these terrorists can face justice for killing and kidnapping American citizens in a U.S. court of law.” He called on the Middle Eastern partner to ensure the group’s honchos are “brought to justice for the despicable acts of terror they committed.”

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