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For Qatar, Hamas and Israel, Middle East Peace Plan Requires Quiet, Subdued Diplomacy

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The Middle East peace plan, repeatedly reported to be close to full unveiling, promises to offer both Israelis and Palestinians in Trump speak ‘the Deal of the Century’. Premonitions into the peace strategy offered by the White House, including the administration’s hither to approach to the so-called final status issues identified during the 1993 Oslo Accords, leave little doubt as to the plan’s would-be reception. Particularly across the wider Arab world, where adherence to the Palestinian cause – albeit reduced – still holds public consensus, the official publication of a Trumpian strategy that rejects key negotiation matters will demand a strong repudiation.

Trump’s exacerbation of the Middle East power balance equally challenges the ongoing multi-track negotiations led by Qatar and involving Hamas and Israel, as the advancement of the parties’ geopolitical objectives requires the maneuverability to defy the espousal of traditional stances – interests that are best served by a more subdued US diplomacy.

For those familiar with the political chimes that embody the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the spring and summer of 2018 offered a staunch reminder of the national social and political turmoil, not to mention the ever-changing regional geopolitical dimensions, that characterize the 70-year-old crisis.While initially a grassroots initiative, the Return Marches held in Gaza – intended to protest Trump’s Jerusalem decision and to commemorate Palestinians’ uprooting since 1948 – once again turned the world’s attention to the plight of those living in the tiny strip of land, in large part the result of the decade-long economic blockade implemented by Israel and Egypt in 2007. The resulting tensions on the border, simultaneously, offered Hamas the means to cement its long-sought domestic and international political legitimacy. Through Qatari diplomatic channels, Hamas – considered a terrorist organization by its indirect interlocutor – and Israel have engaged in truce talks with the aim of alleviating the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and avoiding a full-scale war. At the same time, the avoidance of further bloodshed and improving economic conditions, including through the planned establishment of a sea corridor in Cyprus, enable Hamas to subdue the popular challenge of dominant fundamentalist Salafi and other Jihadi movements in Gaza.

Qatar’s interest in the Gaza Strip is no novel occurrence; since 2012, the Qatar National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza(GRC) has been active in renovating and building destroyed infrastructure.In February, the Qatar-America foundation, citing Mohammed E. Al-Emadi, chairman of GRC and Qatar’s Gaza envoy, reported that between 2012 and 2018, Qatar had spent upwards of 400 million on reconstruction projects in Gaza.For Jason Greenblatt, one of Trump’s peace pointmen, Qatar’s partnering with Israel to provide aid to Gaza was supposed to “end […] support for Hamas.” Yet beyond the provision of development aid, Qatar’s assumption of a mediatory role between Hamas and Israel – first confirmed in June – serves its own international agenda.

The subject of an ongoing economic and political blockade led by Saudi Arabia and its allies, the small Gulf state seeks to depose the Egyptians of their role of chief regional negotiators by favoring Hamas-Israeli cooperation over the intra-Palestinian reconciliation sought by the el-Sisi regime. To date, several Cairo-sponsored reconciliation attempts between Hamas and Fatah have failed; the most recent agreement of October 2017 crumbled earlier this year. According to Al-Elmadi, the Qataris are well-placed to assume the role of a credible partner, because, as the envoy disclosed to Al Jazeera, “the Egyptians are not trusted by Hamas. This is because more than a year ago, the Egyptians made many promises to Hamas to achieve reconciliation with Fatah, among other things, but they did not deliver on their promise.”

For Israel, too, Qatar offers an interesting partnership, as one that promotes the administration’s short-term and long-term objectives. The Trumpian Middle East strategy is one which, to date, appears to align with that of Israel. The unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital last December, the refusal to apply internationally-recognized terminology to the Occupied Territories, the recent withdrawal of all aid funding to UNRWA, and the desire to strip millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees of their rights and status closely align with the policies and narrative put forward by the hawkish Likud party, which has, save a four-year hiatus from 2005-2009, ruled Israel continuously since 2001.

In the short term, a successful Qatar-brokered mediation with Hamas allows Israel to establish the desired security on its borders, while also diverting economic and social responsibility on the occupied strip to the oil-rich Gulf state. In the longer term, Israeli (in)direct engagement with Hamas also enables the continuation of the ‘No Partner for Peace Narrative’, initiated by former Labor PM Ehud Barak after the failure of the July 2000 Camp David, to thwart any substantial peace accord. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has continuously emphasized that any and all agreements on Gaza must run through Ramallah. Commenting on the potential ramifications of forging a deal between Israel and Hamas, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman correctly noted that sidestepping the Palestinian Authority would not only constitute a “tremendous prize” for Hamas but equally create a further obstacle to peace as “the Palestinian Authority should be part of the solution for the Palestinians of Gaza and Palestinians as a whole.”By isolating Abbas, Israel’s partner in security cooperation, the Israeli government also appears to reject the recommendations and warnings of the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet, who realize that sidelining the increasingly-frustrated octogenarian poses a regional security risk.

All indications point that Trump’s Middle East peace strategy, which has been under work since mid-2017, will be dead on arrival. The administration’s desire to challenge decades of failed peace-making initiatives is not an unlofty one. Nevertheless, the appointment of a peace team characterized by a pro-settlement approach, the sought disruption of UNRWA’s work and, in the words of President Trump, “taking Jerusalem off the table” demonstrate a tone-deaf approach to the complexities surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, the alienation and undermining of an already weak interlocutor as a means to further negotiations is symptomatic of a misunderstanding of sound international diplomacy. In her study of the failure of the Oslo Accords, Hilde Henriksen Waage concluded that the exacerbation of the overwhelming imbalance of power between the Israelis and the Palestinians by a third-party facilitator acting as “Israel’s helpful errand boy” inevitably distorted the outcome of negotiations; in the end, according to Waage, the only results that can be achieved when this diplomacy is adopted are “no more than the strong party will allow.”

In response to Trump’s recent demand for Israeli concessions and the promise that Palestinians will get “something good” in return for his recognition of Jerusalem – statements that contradict previous reports – Netanyahu asserted that the publication of the plan had no “urgency.” The undesirability of a diplomatic quid-pro-quo is clear: changing geopolitical perspectives do not mean Netanyahu’s current interlocutors will expend the political capital that involves publicly challenging positions that the Palestinians – and the vast majority of the Arab world – reject.

Grace Wermenbol specializes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the post-Oslo period. She holds a PhD from Oxford University and has been appointed as a Teaching Fellow in contemporary Middle East history and politics at SOAS in London.

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Middle East

The economic summit in Bahrain won’t be about Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Ksenia Svetlova

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In less than two weeks Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt will present in Manama the first part of the long-awaited “deal of the century”, the peace initiative of president Donald Trump designed to find an ultimate solution for the prolonged Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Iraq and Lebanon will not take part in the event, while Tehran had already accused the participants, mainly Saudi Arabia of “betrayal of the Palestinian struggle”. Following the massive pressure on Arab leaders and promises of significant economic development, the American administration was finally able to secure the participation of Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states, and probably Morocco. Israel didn’t receive an official invitation for this event yet. It is, however, clear that it will be invited, and some rumors imply that PM Netanyahu himself might come to Bahrain, a country with which Israel doesn’t have any diplomatic relations.

Yet, it seems that this odd event in Manama will resemble a wedding without the bride. The groom will be there, so are the loving parents who will provide the dowry and the guests, but the bride, i.e. the Palestinian autonomy had already declared that it will not send any official or unofficial delegation to the upcoming economic conference.

The relations between the White House and the Palestinian administration had gone sour since President’s Trump decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinians are suspicious of Trump’s attempts to promote “a deal” that might not include a reference to a two-state solution. For the last two years, the sole connection between Washington and Ramallah has been maintained by the respective security agencies.  Recent remarks made by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel on Israeli territorial claims in Judea and Samaria and the hints of Israel’s annexation plans intensified Palestinian concerns towards the unveiling of the first part of “the deal”. Palestinian officials had harshly criticized the participation of Arab countries in Bahrain conference, expressing hope that they will send low-key representation, while the Jordanian Kind explained that he decided to send a delegation to the summit “to listen and remain knowledgeable of what is taking place”.

Yet, the most fascinating thing about the economic conference is that it’s not at all about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict despite its title. With only one year left prior to the US presidential elections and considering the political turmoil in Israel and the unwillingness of the Palestinian partner to engage in any plan presented by Trump’s administration, there is little hope in Jerusalem, Ramallah or Washington that the “deal of the Century” will accumulate in peaceful solution in the current century.

Why, then, the American administration is investing time and energy in the upcoming Bahrain summit? The answer is clear: mostly, to consolidate the alliance of the “moderate Arab states”.  Considering the recent dramatic events at the sea of Oman and the attack on two oil-tankers, it will not be far-fetched to imagine that the growing tensions in Iran will overshadow the official reason for the gathering. In the same fashion, the “anti-terror” conference in Warsaw that took place in February this year, was solely about Iran, while all other aspects of anti-terrorism activities were left behind. The deterioration of the situation in the Persian Gulf is crucial for the hosts and their allies – the Arab countries in the Gulf. Egypt and Jordan were required to be there because they are key American allies in the region who also maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. The plan that is envisaged by Kushner and Greenblatt will include economic benefits and development programs for both Amman and Cairo who are dealing with pressing economic hardships. Would they prefer to stay away from the conference that is being shunned by the Palestinians? Probably. Could these two countries, who receive significant economic help from the US say no to the invitation and not show up at the wedding of the century? Highly unlikely.

Ironically, some 52 years ago in Khartoum, it was the Arab league that had unanimously voted on the famous “three no’s” resolution in Khartoum, declining any possibility of dialogue with Israel. Today, when the Arab states are weakened by the “Arab spring” and preoccupied with growing tensions in the Persian Gulf while the focus has shifted from the Palestinian question elsewhere, they are more prone than ever to go along with practically any American plan, while the only ones who refuse to cooperate with Trump and obediently fulfil his orders are the Palestinians who will be absent from Manama gathering. The support of the Palestinian struggle and its importance in Arab politics had dwindled, while other regional affairs had moved center stage. Considering this dramatic change of circumstances, the odd wedding in Bahrain doesn’t seem so odd anymore. It can be seen as yet another step in American attempts to consolidate an Arab alliance against Iran. The Palestinian-Israel conflict that will keep simmering after the conference just as it did before has nothing to do with it.

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Who benefits most of suspicious attacks on oil tankers, tensions in the Gulf?

Payman Yazdani

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The events roiling the Persian Gulf in recent weeks and days have the potential to affect everything from the price of gas to the fate of small regional states.

A look at the tensions going on around the world including the Middle East and Persian Gulf region, East Europe, Venezuela all indicate that these tensions originate from the US administration’s unilateral unlawful measures.

The White House’s unlawful withdrawal from the Iran’s nuclear deal (JCPOA), designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, reimposing sanctions on Iran and trying to drive Iran’s oil export to zero all are provocative and suspicious moves of the US that have fueled the regional tensions.

The US and its regional allies including Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s suspicious and provocative move to accuse Iran of being behind the attacks on two ships at Fujairah in the UAE without presenting any document was also foiled by Iran’s vigilant approach and reduced tensions to some extent.

While the Japanese Prime Minister is visiting Iran after 4 decades and many expected even more reduction of the tensions in the region due his visit, in another suspicious and provocative move two oil tankers were targeted in Sea of Oman, a move that can intensify the tensions more than before.

Undoubtedly the US and its proxies in the region as usual will accuse of Iran being behind the incident without any document in hours once again, but the main question is that who is benefiting the most of the tensions in the Persian Gulf region?

Pondering the following reasons one can realize that the number one beneficiary of the tensions and attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East is the USA and respectively Tel Aviv and the undemocratically  appointed rulers of some regional Arab states seeking their survival in following the US policies.

– Contrary to decades ago the US is now one of the biggest oil and gas producers in the world seeking to grab the market share of the other countries in the world. Following US unlawful withdrawal from the JCPOA and its efforts to drive Iran’s oil export to zero under the pretext of different accusations, in fact the US is making efforts not only to grab Iran’s share of the energy market but also to limit Iran’s income to reduce Iran’s regional influence. The US move to create tensions in Venezuela and East Europe and slapping sanctions against Caracas and Moscow can also be interpreted in this line.

– Any tension in the Persian Gulf not only will increase the energy price in global market but also will create enough pretexts for Washington to boost its military presence in the region. This means control of energy routes by the US in order to contain its rivals like China, EU, Japan and new rising economies like India which their economies are heavily dependent on the energy coming from the Persian Gulf and Middle East.

– Tensions in the region besides Iranophobia project will guarantee continuation of purchase of American weapons by some regional countries such as Saudi Arabia. By continuation of selling weapons to Saudi Arabia the US not only creates thousands of jobs for Americans but also keeps its rivals like China and Russia out of Middle East weapon market.

– Tensions and conflicts created by the US in Middle East has resulted in great rifts and divergence among regional states which is vital for Tel Aviv’s security and its expansionist policies.

From our partner MNA

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The odds of success for Japanese PM’s visit to Iran

Payman Yazdani

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US President’s recent retreat from his previous rhetoric stances towards Iran should not be misinterpreted as the White House’s retreat from its policy of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran.

In line with its maximum pressure on Iran policy, on Friday the United States imposed new sanctions on Iran that target the country’s petrochemical industry, including its largest petrochemical holding group, the Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC).

The main reason behind the changes to Trump administration’s tone against Iran in fact is internal pressure on him. Americans are against a new war in the region. Also opposition from the US allies which will suffer from great losses in case of any war in the region is another reason behind change to Trump’s tone.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is slated to visit Tehran on Wednesday June 12. He hopes to use his warm relation with Iran and the US to mediate between the countries.

Besides Abe’s warm relations with Iranian and the US leaders there are others reasons that potentially make him a proper mediator including Japan’s efforts to have independent Middle East policy and not having imperialistic record in the region which is a good trust building factor for Iran.

Above all, as the third largest economy of the world Japan is very dependent on the energy importing from the region. Japan imports 80 percent of its consuming energy from the Middle East which passes through Hormuz strait, so any war and confrontation in the region will inflict great losses and damages to the country’s economy and consequently to the world economy.

To answer the question that how Mr. Abe’s efforts will be effective to settle the tensions depends on two factors.

First on the ‘real will’ and determination of the US and Iran to solve the ongoing problems especially the US ‘real will’. One cannot ask for talk and at the same time further undermine the trust between the two sides by taking some hostile measures like new sanctions that the US slapped against Iran’s petrochemical section last night on the eve of Mr. Abe’s visit to Tehran. If there is a real will, even no need to mediator.

Second we have to wait to see that how the Japanese PM will be able to affect the US’ decisions. Iran’s Keivan Khosravi spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council said efforts to remove US extraterritorial sanctions against Iran could guarantee the success of Japanese PM’s visit to the Islamic Republic.

From our partner MNA

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