HE Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs at a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos


Borge Brende: This annual meeting in Davos is taking place against the most complicated geopolitical landscape in decades and we were all hoping that the war in Gaza would not escalate to a full-fledged conflict in the region and the and the dual leadership on the hostages but also to find and develop peace and reconciliation. It has helped but we also know that now we have the situation in the Red Sea and the Houthis attacks on the transportation on shipping. Could we start also by with the Red Sea and also now the response from the Americans and the UK towards the Houthis. How concerned are you also as the major LNG exporter in the world, and this is a very important shipping route also for Qatar. Will we see an end to this or is it more dangerous now and more likely with the further escalations, can the Americans and the British contain the Houthis?


His Excellency:


Well thank you Borge for having me today. I would like to thank everyone who is participating in this session. As you mentioned, our world is not getting easier, and our jobs are not getting easier, that’s the bigger issue.


But, look when we look at the situation in the region, when it comes to the Palestinian issue, it’s a very central issue for the entire region, and that’s something being anticipated since the war started and we’ve been warning from the expansion and spillover on the region, which is would not be limited only to Gaza but it will get beyond.


We have seen this escalation happening first in southern Lebanon, and then Syria, Iraq, and now in the red sea, which we see it’s the most dangerous escalation right now because it’s not affecting only the region, it’s affecting the global trade as well. Of course, this has changed even how we view the international trade, how we view international shipping, how interconnected we are from East to West. Whenever something is happening in the Middle East, its affecting everyone. Of course, LNG is as any other, merchants, shipments, they will be affected by that. There are alternative routes. Those alternative routes are not more efficient, they are less efficient than the current route. But also I believe that if we want to address the issue, we need to address the real issue, the central issue, which is Gaza, in order to get everything else diffused. Otherwise, if we are just focusing on the symptoms and not treating the real issue, it will be temporary. Right now we are highly concerned about further escalation. Of course, now we see that there are some retaliations from the US and the UK on the Houthis, trying to refrain them from disrupting the international trade, but yet, this is also will create high risk of further escalation and further expansion of that.


We always prefer diplomacy over any military resolutions, and we believe that we shouldn’t just focus on those small conflicts, we should focus on the main conflict in Gaza, and as soon as its diffused I believe everything else will be diffused. We have seen this throughout the 6 days, 7 days of truce that we had in Gaza for the hostages release. It’s just shut down all the other fronts at the same time. So its showing you the effect of that central issue.


Borge Brende: Thank you for your contribution again when it comes to the hostages but also when it came to the truce. The war has been going on for 100 days. But we’ll come back to the Palestinian issue, two state solution, all this. But I’m just wondering and also following up on what you said with now the attacks on the Houthis and the danger for further escalation. I guess the international community could not ignore the attacks on international shipping, but at the same time, what I understand is that the Houthis have been mainly attacking with drones, there are some missiles, but to then really address the Houthi challenge, I guess drones can be sent everywhere, and we know that Yemen is a very vast territory and, is it possible even for great military powers to then contain the capacities of the Houthis to attack in the Red Sea?


His Excellency:  Well look of course, affecting the freedom of navigation is as I mentioned, is a global issue and it’s needed to be contained. As I mentioned, military resolution will not bring an end for this, it will not contain it. It is the contrary. I think it will create further escalation. Because just imagine the attacks are continuing wherever the retaliation is, the attacks are just continuing. And we have seen that the retaliation that took place like three days ago, the response on the Houthis attack, it resulted with another attack yesterday and it’s just going to grow and we see that there is no resolution without having them on the table, addressing this issue seriously, and this issue that is affecting everyone.


 Borge Brende: You also saw, Iranian attacks in Erbil yesterday, I guess this is not mainly related to the Houthis, that’s probably related to what took place in Iran?


His Excellency: Well, we don’t have much information about the attack that occurred in Kurdistan, but I think that what we have right now in the region is a recipe of escalation everywhere. And even we cannot disconnect this from the attack for example in Kerman in Iran a few weeks ago by ISIS. Normally, when you see any turbulence in the region, you start to see different players popping up here and there and that’s the biggest problem.


Question 4: Borge Brende: Yea, and there has though been in the last year, some positive developments when it comes to GCC countries and their relationship with Iran. There has been the reproachment between the UAE and Iran, also reproachment between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Do you think that will, of course you always had a dialogue with Tehran, is that continuing and is there any way to deal also with the situation with the Houthis and with Lebanon and also with Gaza, with a dialogue with Iran or is that an impasse?


His Excellency: Well, look, Iran and the GCC are neighbors. And the reproachment between us is a necessity its not a luxury that we are seeking. I think that we have a common understanding among the GCC countries that its very important to be focused on how to engage with Iran, how to create a better ground of common interest and common understanding between us and build on that and really deal with our differences by dialogue, by addressing the issues face to face. We believe there is a great opportunity and this momentum is still continuing within the GCC. We have seen this throughout the different meetings. And just imagine the great potential of the GCC and Iran coming together economically, even if you are looking at it from that perspective and also its impact on regional security when we have serious and honest dialogue about different issues in the region that can be contained by all of those countries being together.


Borge Brende: coming back to Gaza, 100 days of war. We were together in 2014 in the reconstruction conference for Gaza in Cairo where the Qatari government pledged a lot and the Norwegian government did too and we co-hosted it with the Egyptians. I guess there’s no need to be a new donors conference but its not easy to start to rebuild for the third time without a political solution. I guess there will be also less willingness to contribute if there’s not a political path. So what is a realistic endgame of this Gaza situation, will the Israelis continue to the situation in 2005 when Sharon pulled out of Gaza, will they stay, is that sustainable, what are the options and what do you think the international community will put out there as preconditions to support, because now a million people are without houses, water, sanitation?


His Excellency: Well look, after the war in 2014 and the reconstruction conference that being co-hosted between Norway and Egypt, we have seen and we have heard and we have seen a lot of countries pledging significant amounts for reconstructions but really not much were willing to go in and rebuild and they ended up just as an announcement and this is because most of the countries they don’t believe in the sustainability of the situation and we have seen and lived that throughout this period and having different from time to time almost every year an escalation that’s happening in Gaza, maybe on a limited scale, but there were a lot of escalation and destruction.


Right now, and looking at the situation and the amount of bombing and destruction that happened in Gaza, around more than 23,000 people being killed, 2/3 of them women and children. Gaza is not there anymore, I mean there is nothing over there, its carpet bombing everywhere. It needs rebuilding an entire city again after this. I don’t see that there is a magic word going back to the status before 7th of October and you will see all the countries coming back and injecting funds there to reconstruct it unless we address the real issue which is the two state solution. Right now unfortunately we see that there are some politicians who thought that this matter can just be put under the rug and people will forget about it. What happened after 7th of October is showing all of us that this issue is a very central issue, not for the region but for the entire world. The war in Gaza and even the response of the international community on the war in Gaza has been unfortunately very disappointing for the region and for people of the region. And we see that for the first time I mean in the recent history we see even calling for ceasefire became a controversial term in such a situation and I think that right now there is only one path that is an active path which is the one about the hostages, ceasefire, and exchange of the hostages and its going through a lot of difficulties and unfortunately also its going under a lot of scrutiny by parties of the conflict.


Yet, we believe that the bigger picture cannot be ignored. We need to address it right now. We need to address to end the war as soon as possible, how to get the hostages released and getting also the Palestinian prisoners, to address the issue in the West Bank, which is maybe the media are not capturing a lot of what’s happening over there but what’s happening in the West Bank is not better than Gaza, its not mass bombing yes, but we see the killing, settler violence, we see the extremist government calling for genocide for the Palestinian people. We don’t see a real reaction from the international community. We were always questioning that what if these kinds of statements or this kind of behavior coming out of another country? Will we see this silence from the international community? I don’t think so.


I believe we need to step up to our responsibility. We need to address both issues, we need to address the Palestinian division, we need to address the two-state solution. Those three tracks are moving hand in hand. They cannot move independently. We cannot have a two-state solution without ending the Palestinian division. We cannot have a two-state solution without having a government and politicians in Israel who believe in coexisting together side by side peacefully. We cannot have all this ongoing without ending this war. I believe that the numbers that we are seeing, the images that we are watching, will not have an impact just on the short term. It will have an impact on the short, medium, and long term. And the longer term impact will be more dangerous for all of us. Just imagine those kids and families watching their relatives their parents being killed in the bombing. What kind of generation we expect? What kind of generation we expect in our region or even in Europe, elsewhere? Watching all these images and seeing the world just staying silent about it? It will just create a rage and anger.


Borge Brende: You were mentioning that the can was kicked on the road for many years on the two-state solution. This has again brought that to the top of the agenda. But who could you see a possible political solution today for a two-state solution? Of course, it has to start in Ramallah with the Palestinian leadership there, with also Fatah, it will also need that Telaviv and Jeruselem is willing to go back to where we were in 2000 the Oslo principles. Do you think that its so much political pressure on this, that we will see momentum? And second who will then represent the Palestinians, do you see Hamas playing any role in that or is that a non-starter both for the US and Israel?


His Excellency: Well, look I think… your question is very complex with a lot of components in it but ill try to simplify my answer here. There are multiple issues in what you have just addressed. First, negotiating the solution is not a solution. Always in any conflicts around the world, we put the solution and then we negotiate how to implement that solution. The problem that we had post Oslo that how to negotiate a solution, which is not really something that brought us to a closure at the end. Right now, everyone knows that the solution is two-states, 1967 border. There are some outstanding issues in the implementation, yes. They can address this. But it needed to be time bound, it needed to be reversible, so we cannot stay hostages of election here or there that will change their view on the vision. We need something that really make the resolution mandatory for any party who will come to power in Israel. We were hearing some Israeli officials especially after 7th of October that they are seeking for peace and they are the ones who wants the solution and the Arabs they don’t want the solution. We have heard one of the speeches, I think it was in the Security Council a month ago, that they are the ones for peace. But if we go historically and I believe everyone can just research this. The Arabs they were the ones who were coming up with solutions and proposals and its never been accepted once by the Israelis and even accepting to talk about them. So we need to see a recognition by the international community that we cannot leave this just at the hands of the Israelis.


Now on the Palestinian issue, like the inter-Palestinian issue, all of us we understand there was a division, the PA is facing a lot of challenges, but we never asked ourselves why these challenges occurred in the first place, what is the reason behind it? Who made them paralyzed and not empowered to really govern over there? The PA basically they don’t govern. Everything is controlled by Israel. West Bank they go in and out and they just dominate it, they just dominate it from security, building new settlements over there, and all these things are complicating any hope for resolution.


About your question on Hamas. Look, whatever disagreements, whatever we see, those are part of the Palestinian political system and the Palestinian people, those are the only ones who have the choice to have them as part of the resolution or not. Its not our choice nor the Israelis or anyone’s choice. At the end, we always say that if there is a difference in disagreement in the ideology, of course the conduct is something else, then you have to replace it with a better idea, and the better idea is to bring the two-state solution back on the table. And we see a growing recognition now by a lot of our partners internationally, of course we hear a lot from the US now about the necessity of having this on track as soon as possible and this is very important. US is playing a key role, a central role on this and we believe that they can bring the parties back together.


Borge Brende: This 24 years ago, Clinton at Camp David had the plan there and Yasser Arafat and also Israeli leadership was there. We were very close to a two-state solution mainly based on the principles that you laid out. 24 years later we are not in such a good shape. Gaza is in a humanitarian disaster. The situation also in the West Bank is difficult but if you saw Israeli government that was willing to go back to the principles behind also the Camp David agreement, mainly ’67 boarders, also then the two-state solution, what kind of guarantees do you think then the Israelis would have needed in such a situation that would not end up as an area where they will be attacked by rockets and etc. This is now one of the arguments on their side. Do you think one could guarantee that in a two-state solution?


His Excellency: Well I think, even as Arabs when we proposed the Arab Peace Initative, that provides the best guarantee for Israel to give the Palestinians their statehood. Arabs would normalize with them and then everything can be arranged, as security guarantees, as security architecture for the entire region in order to ensure that there is not anymore wars in that area. And I think that we have seen this willingness by all the countries. I’m speaking about my own country. Qatar after Madrid and Oslo, we were the first country that brought the Israeli trade mission. We signed a relationship with Israel. We were hoping that there will be a path forward toward peace. Yet, from there till 2008 and when we have seen the war, we decided that this is not working anymore. And we believe that not addressing the real issue and having a clarity about getting the Palestinians their statehood, normalization, and having relationships with Israel will not help in resolving. It will just drag the issue, as I mentioned, to be forgotten. I think that we are in a moment where all of us we are showing our willingness to extend our hands, to have a peace agreement with Israel, if they are willing to engage genuinely in a process that will make the Palestinians having their state in the end.


Borge Brende: I would like at the end maybe to look at it in a broader context, also of course your leadership in Qatar, fast growing economy, I think you have a reform plan also as Prime Minister, that’s one thing, but you’re also seeing that your work on peace and reconciliation is highly appreciated, but its also quite difficult in a fragmented polarized world, so maybe you can share with us in one minute also your secret sauce on how you have managed that?


His Excellency: Well, regarding our plans I believe that we are going through a very exciting moment. The country over the last two decades has invested heavily in the infrastructure, in the energy infrastructure, around 200 billion dollars being invested in the infrastructure just in the last ten years. We have created national champions, one of the top ten sovereign wealth funds, the best airline in the world, in the energy business being an energy leader. I believe right now the government is looking at how can we capitalize on all what we have built. The government role is moving from being a developer to an enabler and to empower the private sector to take a leadership role. We have in the next year we will be very much focused on reforming our policies and changing some of the regulations to lift the barriers on businesses. We are allocating billions to stimulate the private sector and enable them in order to lead the growth. We want to prepare to create a prepared workforce for our country. Of course, we have seen the excitement across sectors. One of the examples in the tourism sector, when you see the potential, in 2022 during the world cup, we welcomed around 2.6 million people. This year we closed 4 million people, which is showing you the growth and the potential in the country itself. Of course, the North Field expansion will represent 40% of the additional supplies in the LNG in the world by 2029.


Borge Brende: Thank you from Europe.


His Excellency: You’re welcome sir. Regarding our policy and our role in international peace and security, mediation is central in our foreign policy and its part of our constitution even. We always believe that its very vital. As a small country this is giving you agility and flexibility to move faster to create good relationship with everyone that can help, and we see that this is our contribution for global peace and security. And you know, always His Highness the Emir, he’s been very clear that whatever we get, you know as they say “no good deeds go unpunished” and you know whatever we get as criticism and scrutiny sometimes because that we maintain all these relationships with everyone. If it will end up saving a single life, its worth it. That’s how we work. And you are hearing sometimes some politicians are trying to score some political points here and there, going after Qatar’s role, but at the end of the day, our actions, the ones we have proven that throughout conflicts not in the region, even beyond that region, Ukraine, Venezuela, Chad in Africa, Djibouti Eritrea, in Gaza recently with the hostages, what resulted with the release of 109 hostages was the negotiation, wasn’t the military operation. And that’s showing the power of negotiations.