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Israel-Palestine war: Lindsey Graham says Hamas in Qatar 'so we can talk to them'

Presence of the staunch Israel supporter at Doha Forum led to some awkward encounters as the US senator slammed UN and Palestinian Authority
United States Senator Lindsey Graham talks during a special session at the Doha Forum, in Doha, Qatar, on 10 December 2023 (AFP)

US Senator Lindsey Graham defended Qatar's hosting of Hamas leaders, saying the group was in Doha “so they can be talked to”, as he issued full-throated support for Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Graham said US President Joe Biden “did the right thing” vetoing a UN resolution on Friday calling for a ceasefire to the war because “every ceasefire Hamas has ever entered, they’ve broken”, adding that Israel needed more time to destroy the group.

Speaking at the Doha Forum in Qatar, Graham also said that he would speak to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres privately to criticise his invoking of a rarely used article in the UN to appeal for a ceasefire. The US was the only member to veto the resolution.

The US senator’s presence at the Doha Forum, an annual gathering where Qatar hosts officials, academics and diplomats to discuss current events, at times made for some awkward moments.

Graham is a staunch supporter of Israel. He has said America’s ally is fighting "a religious war” in Gaza and should “raze [the] place to the ground” to destroy Hamas.

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Qatar has positioned itself as a leading advocate for the Palestinian cause via its state-funded news network Al-Jazeera and its diplomatic and humanitarian engagement with the besieged enclave.

Walking through the conference, Graham was confronted by a journalist over previous comments he made that there should be “no limit” to civilian casualties in Gaza, to which he replied that Hamas was a “terrorist organisation” that had “weaponised the civilian population”.

In his remarks at the forum, he also criticised an earlier panel for hosting “a one-sided” conversation about the war and said that from his hotel room, he had watched one-sided media coverage of the war.

Talking to Hamas

The forum came as Qatar has been flexing its diplomatic heft in the region, mediating a short-lived truce to the war that allowed for some vital humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinians in Gaza and 105 captives in Gaza to be freed, as well as 240 Palestinians held by Israel.

Qatar’s role as the Middle East’s super fixer was cemented during the truce, with CIA director Bill Burns and the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, David Barnea, meeting in Doha to negotiate indirectly with Hamas via Egyptian and Qatari officials.

Qatar says its continuing push for a ceasefire to the war is putting it at odds with Graham and the Biden administration. Its mediator role has also put a spotlight on its ties to Hamas, which some US lawmakers have criticised, demanding Qatar extradite Hamas officials after the war.

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Qatar has pushed back against criticism of its ties to Hamas, saying that it has hosted the group and provided aid to Gaza at the request of Israel and the US.

Graham defended Qatar in his opening remarks, thanking them for assisting with the US’s pullout from Afghanistan and mediating with Hamas.

“I want to thank you [Qatar] for what you have done for my country. You get some criticism, and Hamas is here — but I know why they’re here, they’re here so they can be talked to.”

“You do things for the world that sometimes is not so popular, but I just want to let you know that I appreciate what you do. I love coming here and you’re more the solution than the problem,” he said.

Making money

Graham also weighed into an ongoing debate about the future governance of Gaza where the Biden administration is at odds with Israel - which opposes a return of the Palestinian Authority to the besieged enclave.

“The first thing we need to do is find a new PA (Palestinian Authority). I wouldn’t give 15 cents to this trow. So when this is over, I hope we can find new people to offer new governance,” he said.

Graham’s assessment that the Palestinian people would eventually "destroy" Hamas is at odds with the US’s closest regional allies like Egypt and Jordan, which have said it is unrealistic to destroy the group which the US considers a terrorist organisation.

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On Friday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Palestinian Authority envisioned a “junior role” for Hamas in the government of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip once the war is over.

Graham also said that the Hamas-led 7 October attack on Israel was designed, at least in part, to make sure that the big prize - which he said was normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel - failed.

He said that was the “biggest fear” of Iran, which would allow Arab states and Israel to cooperate so “everybody makes money and can live in peace”.

“So I believe we cannot let Iran win. And for Iran to lose would be the following: We not give up on the efforts to reconcile Saudi Arabia with Israel, that we not give up on a new way of doing business with the Palestinians after this war is over.”

Graham, however, said that Gulf states "couldn’t help Israel" unless it makes “a commitment for a two-state solution”, without elaborating what an independent Palestinian state would look like.

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