Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim, the Qatari Foreign Minister, recently set a trap for the Arab peace initiative whilst speaking in the forum of the New York Council for Foreign Relations. His suggestion has been considered a coup against all internationally guaranteed references for peace. It is however important to consider whether his speech is simply a naïve call to assure Israel or rather a strategic view that aims to undermine the Arab peace initiative that was undertaken by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques and approved by the Arabs in the Arab
summit that was held Beirut in 2002.
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz called for full normalization with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all the lands it has occupied. Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz recently affirmed the initiative in his speech before the General Assembly. The question therefore, is whether the call by the Qatari Foreign Minister is aimed at restoring his country”s relations with the United States through improving relations with Israel.
The call made by the Minister appears to be more tactical than a peace strategy. As suggested by an ex-American diplomat, who is familiar with Arab Israeli talks, the references of peace are well known and can be located to the Madrid conference where the principle of land for peace was decided, based on UN resolutions 242 and 338. Any conference between the Arabs and Israel is a favorable response to the Israeli extreme right led by Netanyahu rather than to Sharon and the Likud. It is Netanyahu and his group who rejected Madrid, Oslo, and the Road Map altogether. They called for a new conference with the Arabs to replace the Madrid legitimacy. Therefore, the suggestion made by the Qatari Minister represents a counter coup against that legitimacy. One is compelled to ask; does this call represent Qatar”s anticipation of Netanyahu winning the Israeli leadership?
One can only question whether the Qatari/Saudi differences have reached a level that justifies a Qatari strike against the entire initiative of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz that promises Israel all for nothing? Who are the political advisors of the Qatari Foreign Minister? Do they see the full picture or are they trying to play a winning card?
The Qatari foreign minister considers Qatar to be a major player in the region and in the Arab Israeli conflict. Yet no matter how rich the country is in political science there are "Limits of Power". After all, Qatar is a small country with limited influence that is neither a major player nor a minor player in the Arab Israeli conference. Qatar once severely criticized late Egyptian president Sadat for his visit to Israel. Surely if Qatar had carried any weight then, Sadat”s response would not have been as harsh as it was when he stated, "Not everybody that opens a kiosk that overlooks the Gulf should think that they have become a state."
Sheikh Hamad and his state have the right to have special relations with Israel and to normalize their relations for Qatar is an independent sovereign state. What is not permissible however, is to embarrass other Arabs by lifting the value of what the Arabs could offer Israel. After this recent statement by Qatar the Arab peace initiative set during the Beirut summit of 2002 seems meaningless. The values of the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Agreement and the Road Map have also been diminished. According to Qatar, what is now required is that Israel and the Arabs sit face to face with no conditions; a view shared by Netanyahu.
The Qatari Minister, who called for an international conference between Israel and the Arabs under US sponsorship, did not only embarrass his fellow Arabs, but also the Americans. According to an American diplomat, "after this statement we will not be able to convince Israel to commit to the international frame of reference and the pre-1967 lines. They will probably accuse us of being more royal than the king". The fact is when an Arab state gives up international legitimacy the Americans cannot hold on to it, as they may be considered to be more Arab than the Arabs. It is clear that the Qatari foreign minister wanted to serve America by his statements. However, the Americans themselves argue that these statements do not serve American interests in the region. The statement by the Qatari minister whether intentionally or not, struck a lethal blow to the Arab initiative. It is not dead yet, but is becoming very shaky.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim has also embarrassed newspapers and satellite
channels in Qatar, London, and Cairo that are adopting a firm stand against normalization with Israel. The news media is now in a situation where it must either transform its position and express an acceptance of Israel, or firmly maintain its principles, which will involve refusing the Sheikh”s money.
I am supportive of normalization but only with normal states, which is not the case with Israel that insists on the occupation of Arab territories. The Qatari”s are free to offer Israel normalization without blame but only if it retreats to the 1967 borders; this falls in line with the conditions of the Arab initiative adopted in 2002 in Beirut. The Arab position appears weak and is deteriorating as it seeks normalization with Israel.