An accord signed between Palestinian rivals in Qatar this week highlights the key role the gas-rich Gulf state is playing in the region as it steals the limelight from traditional regional powers.
In Syria, Doha is playing a leading diplomatic role to end a brutal government crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime that has claimed at least 6,000 lives since March, according to the opposition.
As part of that, Qatar led an Arab committee to the U.N. Security Council to urge action on Syria.
However, a resolution to end the bloodshed there was blocked by Chinese and Russian vetoes.
The tiny Gulf state has also led mediation efforts in Lebanon, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti, and is also promoting an Afghan peace deal.
“All indications point to the fact that Doha has become the capital of Arab politics and diplomacy,” said Emirati analyst Abdulkahleq Abdullah. “This will continue in the foreseeable future.”
On Monday, Doha helped clinch a deal between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah to name Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as head of an interim government tasked with organizing long-overdue general elections.
For months, the two factions failed to agree on the crucial political appointment, threatening the fragile truce signed between them last April.
Qatar has also thrown its support behind the Arab uprisings that swept the region, unseating autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh is also on the verge of stepping down.
Qatar openly acknowledged sending troops to Libya in support of rebels fighting to overthrow longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Qatar “understood at an early stage that there was a new system in the making in the Middle East,” said director of the Brookings Doha Centre Salman Shaikh, noting that “it took the initiative to ensure regional stability as much as possible.”
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is a close U.S. ally who has managed to maintain strong ties with Iran, despite heightened tensions with the Islamic republic’s other Gulf neighbors and Western powers over its nuclear program.
Qatar’s diplomatic initiatives reach further beyond the Gulf to Africa and South Asia.
Last year, Doha brokered a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and rebels in Darfur, though the deal failed to take effect on the ground.
In 2008, it brokered a deal between rival Lebanese factions to end an 18-month political feud that exploded into deadly sectarian violence that threatened to push the country towards civil war.
Qatar’s mediation efforts also helped Eritrea and Djibouti resolve their border dispute in 2008.
Qatar is also playing a crucial role in promoting a Afghan peace deal and is hosting talks between the U.S. and Taliban officials. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani arrived in Qatar on Monday for discussions about efforts to bring an end to Afghanistan’s 11-year conflict.
“Qatar continues its effective diplomacy ... within a complicated geopolitical environment,” said Shaikh.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s influential television news channel Al-Jazeera has changed the face of Arab TV journalism since its launch in 1996, with hard-hitting reporting on Middle East conflicts and controversial debates.
Smaller countries, such as Qatar and to a smaller extent the United Arab Emirates, “have filled in the (leadership) gaps” left by the traditional diplomatic power-houses of the region, said Abdullah.
Qatar “also realizes that it needs useful partnerships in its diplomatic efforts. This is why it relies on support from its allies such as Saudi Arabia” on complex political issues such as Syria, said Shaikh.
Doha has yet to make a breakthrough in its efforts to bridge a widening gap between Washington and Tehran, who have not had formal diplomatic ties since the 1980s.