The leader of the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar has told a group of visiting American Jewish leaders that he is interested in expanding ties with Israel.
“We are thinking about opening an interest section” in Israel, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, told members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations during a private meeting this week at the royal palace here.
The emir added: “We have ended the secondary and tertiary boycott and are considering an agreement between [our respective] airlines.”
In October 1994, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – announced an end to their participation in the secondary and tertiary boycotts.
Under the terms of those boycotts, Arab nations would refuse to do business with companies that traded with Israel, as well as with third-party firms that traded with those companies.
Qatar and Oman, more than the other GCC members, have been extending the frontiers of their dealings with Israel.
In October, Qatar approved the sale of natural gas to Israel with an American firm serving as an intermediary.
In January, Oman and Israel signed an agreement to set up in each other’s countries commercial interest offices, generally seen as a first step toward diplomatic ties.
Some 24 members of a Presidents Conference delegation flew from Israel to the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar on Thursday at the invitation of the emir, whom they praised for his support of the Middle East peace process.
Meeting with the delegation just a week after he thwarted an attempted coup spearheaded by his exiled father, whom he overthrew in June, the emir acknowledged his vulnerability and asked for American assistance.
“You have to understand our situation. Our population is less than 100,000, and our neighbors are scared, hesitant about the peace process. We are a small nation that supports peace and we re ready to do more.”
The American leaders, who were also hosted by the country’s foreign minister in a well-publicized visit, praised the Qatar officials’ openness.
Shoshana Cardin, past president of the Presidents Conference, said the emir “was very candid in expressing his vulnerability as he moves forward in a democratic fashion and continues to support the peace process. We found him very trusting and open.”