Reports that the next Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit meeting is to be moved from Manama in Bahrain to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 5 January have given further impetus to the prospect of a full-house meeting of the leaders of the six countries that are members of the group and of a solution to the Qatar crisis.
Yet, many in the region and outside are not optimistic about a breakthrough, given that previous attempts to solve the issue have failed due to Doha’s insistence on its positions.
The media started hyping the possibility of reconciliation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia after US White House Adviser Jared Kushner visited Riyadh and Doha at the end of last month.
Kushner, outgoing US president Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close counsellor, has an interest in raising his personal profile before leaving the present US administration with the outgoing president on 20 January when US President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
As Kushner’s efforts to get Saudi Arabia to normalise its relations with Israel, as UAE and Bahrain did a few months ago, have not been bearing fruit, he has opted to try for another breakthrough on the Qatar crisis.
The Israelis see this as an important step towards getting Doha to normalise its relations with Israel and facilitate what they call “the big prize” of normalisation with Saudi Arabia.
Statements from Kuwait, which has been mediating between Qatar and the four countries boycotting it – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt (the Quartet) – have raised hopes of reconciliation.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al-Saud confirmed the efforts last week when he said that “we are in full coordination with our partners in this process, and the prospects that we see are very positive towards a final agreement. The eventual resolution will involve all the parties concerned... What we envision is a resolution that covers all aspects and is satisfactory to all parties involved and one that will happen soon.”
But the Saudi dampened the hype that a Saudi-Qatari path was on target, as Qatar has long tried to portray the crisis as a “dispute” with its large neighbour alone that if sorted out would lead the rest of the Quartet to follow.
It has also propagated the false claim that the rest of the group is targeting Qatar unjustifiably, as the Qatari and Qatar-financed Muslim Brotherhood media have been spreading.
The four countries in the Quartet cut their relations with Qatar in June 2017 after it failed to commit to a previous agreement stipulating that it stop supporting terrorist groups and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbours, among other conditions.
Since then, Doha has been playing the role of victim, claiming that it has been the prey of a campaign against its sovereign foreign policy. However, it has kept attempting to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the other countries boycotting it.
The Qataris have leaked that a Saudi-Qatari agreement brokered by Kushner would include opening Saudi airspace to Qatari flights, opening borders and the Qataris dropping international litigation against Riyadh’s closure of its airspace to Qatar and calming its media campaigns.
Nothing has been mentioned concerning Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist groups, its close relations with Iran, the Turkish military presence in Qatar, or any of the other issues from the more than dozen concerns that the Quartet noted three years ago.
A Saudi source expanded on what the country’s foreign minister said this week, saying that the Kingdom “will not have any separate deals. Any agreement has to be with the four countries and satisfy their conditions.”
A number of Gulf analysts told Al-Ahram Weekly that unless Qatar meets conditions set by its Gulf neighbours and Egypt, there will not be a resolution to the crisis.
Some referred to the 2014 agreement with Qatar, endorsed by late Saudi king Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, which Doha reneged on. This led to the 2017 boycott, which revived the terms of the previous agreement.
As one analyst said, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool my twice, shame on me.” He said that the “broken trust can’t be reclaimed by just promises… deeds are needed as well to reflect the talks.”
Discrediting media reports that there will be a Qatari-Saudi exit from the crisis, both the UAE and Egypt announced that they welcomed the Kuwaiti and US efforts to resolve the Qatar crisis. Both confirmed their trust in the Saudi approach, while not wavering from their longstanding positions.
Some pundits say that the Kushner position on the matter is untenable, especially as the US Congress recently started investigating a more than a $1 billion Qatari deal that helped his family prop up property assets in New York.
British newspaper the Financial Times published a detailed report about the deal helping the Kushner family when it faced mortgage repayments on a deserted Manhattan skyscraper.
The US Congress is investigating whether the Qatari money influenced the change of US policy towards Qatar and its increasing shift towards supporting Qatar’s position.
The GCC summit next month might be attended by the Qatari emir, but there is no guarantee that a major breakthrough will come out of it.
The country’s Gulf neighbours and Egypt are not going to buy any more promises or continue with empty negotiations on concerns related to their national and regional security, as one Dubai-based Saudi commentator put it.
If Qatar is not willing to change its position on serious issues like its support for the Islamists, the Turkish military presence, and its cosy relations with Iran, then a breakthrough might still be far ahead.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.