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Gulf Crisis Accelerating Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks?

June 15, 2017

​The first week of June 2017 wasn't the best for the Middle East in general, and the Gulf in particular. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Tehran attack only two days after Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, eastern government of Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, and Senegal have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar: Doha is accused of continuously supporting extremist Islamic groups including Al-Qaeda and other affiliates. Qatar is also blamed for backing Iranian-allied rebels, making it at close ties with Iran, a leading adversary of Gulf countries.

 

Trump's visit to the Middle East

 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has warmly welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump to its premises. President Trump's choice of visiting Saudi Arabia as a first foreign trip was not random. In 2007, George W. Bush spent remarkable efforts convincing Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in alignment with Egypt and Jordan to join an alliance that stands against a 'high and common threat' to Gulf countries (and Israel): Iran.

 

In 2013, the Obama administration was able to communicate with newly elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who is a former nuclear negotiator asserting that "Iran will maintain its nuclear program but offers to adhering by transparency unlike previous years". While there will be significant obstacles to overcome, President Obama believes a comprehensive resolution can be reached.

 

In 2017, being the new president-elect in office, Trump has "covertly been working towards withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was signed between the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany) and Iran, or at least renegotiating it".  

 

It was made clear that Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia was for the purposes of meeting King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and his son, also in power, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, as well as attend a summit gathering top Muslim leaders to discuss the fight against extremist and radical groups or 'terrorist organizations'. A BBC report explains "Saudi Leaders believe Obama was too friendly with their regional rival" for negotiating nuclear deal with Iran, unlike Trump who wishes to take a step back. "Trump is in final stages of a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth 100 billion U.S. dollars".

 

Only a few days later to his visit, Trump took a direct flight to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlinread in Jerusalem, and later meet the Palestinian Authorities president Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. In a joint statement, Netanyahu expended his wishes to president Trump for his "deep commitment to Israel's security, its well being and its future". The Prime Minister of Israel also thanked Tump's change of American policy on Iran. While with Trump, President Mahmoud Abbas reminded the U.S. president of Palestinian commitment to reach a peace deal with Israel. Trump's response was that peace between Israel and Palestine can be achieved by starting a process of peace throughout the Middle East, "that would be an amazing accomplishment".

 

AFP-Getty images/ Trump and Netenyahu shaking hands in joint statement

 

Israel in and out of the Gulf Crisis

 

The Iranian threat is common to Gulf countries and Israel. In fact, Iran is certainly a security threat to Gulf states for various reasons:

 

  • Its nuclear program and satellites keep on expending with little cooperation with the international community;

  • It is a Shiite republic, which conflicts with other Gulf countries of Sunni majority;

  • Its size is very significant, being large and difficult to reach entirely in case of confrontation;

  • It can domestically produce its own gas;

  • It is a supporter and main ally of the Syrian government;

  • It is a crucial ally of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, all three depending on Iran's power and powerful presence in the Middle East. 

 

Facing this challenge, Gulf states cannot care less about the Palestinian cause. The stress is notably oriented towards assuring who will be leading the Muslim world, and  securing support from the international community in case of security emergency.

 

Qatar, on the opposite side of the rest of GCC states, has demonstrated close alliance with Iran which was not in favor of the U.S.-GCC strategy. In its anti-Qatar campaign, Saudi Arabia also targeted Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera for supporting controversial theories ever since "it interviewed Osama bin Laden after the 2001 Twin Towers attack, and broadcasted messages from Al-Qaeda for the rest of the world ". Qatar's connections with anti-Israel leaders and its continuous support of Palestinian resistance through Al Jazeera and Hamas has led to an Israeli decision of suspending Israel's diplomatic mission to Qatar in March 2011 and to forbid entry of Qatari passport holders to Judea and Samarea. Following the assassination of Hamas leader in 2010, Qatar has proposed to regain diplomatic relations with Israel should they give Doha the green light to contribute in reconstructing Gaza, but Israel declined.By the end of 2011, Israel sought the possibility of importing its gas from Qatar again due to interrupted connections of the Israel Electric Corporation with Egypt.

 

While Israel remains the 'best friend' of the United States, and while GCC countries minus Qatar were worried about the American-Iranian dialogue held by the time of the Obama administration, the Gulf estimates with no doubt that Israel has an important impact on the defense of the region, especially when it comes to American deployment in the Middle East. Israel is also an important source of information located in the Arab neighborhood. As for the United States' plan to devise a strategy on Iran, Israel is not doing a good job and cannot engage the GCC minus Qatar and be part of a regional strategy as long as the Palestinian issue in not solved. Furthermore, even with existing Israeli-Gulf relations under the tables, it is challenging in the eyes of Gulf countries to claim an official alliance with Israel against Iran for reasons involving public opinion, politics, history, religion and sympathy with the Palestinians.  

 

The cost of Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution

  

The two-state solution is the most recent and problematic solution being debated. The Palestinian Authorities and numerous countries of the international community including the U.S. have endorsed the plan of two independent states along with 1967 borders or the Green Line. After years of resistance, Hamas had also submitted a report on May 2017 indicating its agreement to adhere by the 1967 borders but not to recognize the state of Israel. Such decision did probably not arise independently and without the involvement and consent of  Hamas' regional allies. 

 

However, the two-state solution is far from being 'correctly' achieved, with up to 70% of housings in the West Bank being illegal Israeli settlements considered in the land of Judea and Samarea. Until present, Israel is continuously approving constructions of similar settlements for Israelis, violating international law ever since it crossed the Green Line. Israel is still in control of the majority of the West Bank, committing unlawful killings and war crimes and referring to administrative detention of children and adults being accused of rebellion with little or no proof of misconduct.

 B'tselem/Israel's Policy in West Bank

 

In a recent statement, Netenyahu announced being ready for a two-state solution, only if Israel remains in control of Palestinian land to protect its citizens. This seems to be complicating the U.S. strategy on the Middle East and Trump's response to Abbas mentioning 'the process of peace in the Middle-East'. Will Israel be ready to withdraw itself when pressure knocks its door? 

 

Iran, the United States, and the Gulf, 'The Elusive Regional Policy' published by Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Number 105), November 2009.  

 

Arms Control Association, 'Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy With Iran', published on Fact Sheets & Briefs. Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy.

 

First PostIs Donald Trump trying to push for a renegotiation of Iran nuclear deal by isolating the country further?, published by FP Staff.

 

BBCTrump's Saudi Arabia visit: What are key issues?

 

Financial Times, Al Jazeera targeted in Saudi-led campaign against Qatar.

 

Israël et les pays du Golfe: Entre Iran et "Printemps Arabe", published by Yoel Guzansky, Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI).

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