Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tired of "Saudi Arabia vs. Syria" ... Get Qatar!

WINEP, here

"....Since the breakdown of the 2000 Camp David peace talks between Israel and the PA, Arab leaders have differed over how to deal with the Palestinian issue. In one camp, Syria supports "resistance" activities of the Iranian-backed groups Hizballah and Hamas. In the other, U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt support the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative ......Divisions between the two camps widened following the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, ...Saudi Arabia and Egypt led a diplomatic boycott of Damascus, a leading suspect in the murder. Relations deteriorated following Israel's 2006 war with Lebanon's Shiite Hizballah. Syria supported Hizballah, ..... In a bid to rein in Syrian and Iranian influence following Hamas's victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections, Saudi Arabia brokered a power-sharing accord in Mecca between Fatah and Hamas in February 2007. To cement the deal, Saudi Arabia invited President al-Asad to the March 2007 "Arab Solidarity Summit" in Riyadh. While the summit began with photos of King Abdullah and al-Asad walking together, holding hands, it ended in discord when al-Asad tried to add new language to the Arab Peace Initiative. Three months later, in June 2007, Hamas seized power in Gaza through armed force. Tensions between Riyadh and Damascus worsened over the standoff to select a new Lebanese president, ending in Hizballah's May 2008 temporary armed takeover of West Beirut. Adding insult to Riyadh's injury, Qatar's Sheikh Hamad brokered a deal to elect a Lebanese president and to ensure a "blocking third" of opposition ministers in the ruling cabinet (effectively giving them a veto), solving the Lebanese standoff on Hizballah and Syria's terms....

The turmoil in Arab diplomacy presents both challenges and opportunities for the United States. On Gaza, Washington should continue to support the Egyptian initiative, which calls for the monitoring of Gaza crossings by the PA and greater Egyptian and international efforts to shut down tunnel smuggling networks. The United States should also work to ensure that Arab aid is delivered via the PA, allowing Hamas to gain as little credit as possible during reconstruction. The Saudi-authored Arab Peace Initiative could still provide a diplomatic building block in the peace process, but was already suffering from a lack of Saudi commitment to propel it forward despite recent Israeli interest in its proposals. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are Washington's strongest Arab allies, but both Mubarak and Abdullah are old men, and the leadership transition in both countries could be problematic. Having the status of these leaders challenged by other countries does not help. Of the main antagonists Syria and Qatar, each presents a different problem. While the United States, at least under the Bush administration, was determined to curtail the influence of Syria, particularly in Lebanon, Qatar is an ally, providing air-base facilities and storage sites for military equipment. Qatar's diplomatic stance has long been complex, as it tries to
balance ties with the United States and Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Despite what often appears as deliberate provocation, Washington will most likely be careful not to irritate Qatar. Worryingly though, the Qataris appear to have concluded that the U.S. status in the region is declining while Iran's is ascending, and that Tehran therefore should be accommodated as necessary. "

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To find a country that tries to maintain ties with both sides is a real opportunity. Washington should take advantage of its good relations with Qatar and ask for assistance in dealing with its mounting Mideast problems.

Qatar has shown genuine foreign policy creativity both in regards to this month's Israeli attack on Gaza and in regards to Lebanon's domestic political standoff. Political creativity has in the past existed in Washington, as well. Both the Marshall Plan and Nixon's trip to China come to mind.

A Mideast friend with creativity and good ties to all parties is a treasure to be held with care.