Is Qatar trying to find a way out of the Gulf crises?

A disputed phone call is at the heart of an attempt by Doha to patch things up with Riyadh without losing face.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman attends a signing ceremony between US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (not pictured) at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman attends a signing ceremony between US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (not pictured) at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Friday, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani called Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
According to Al Jazeera in Qatar, it was the first official call between Riyadh and Doha since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and other states broke relations in June. However, just a day after the historic conversation, things went sour with allegations from the Saudis that Qatar was “distorting facts.”
The latest controversy seems to indicate that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar would like to climb down from the threemonth crisis. This could have ramifications for the region, healing disputes with Turkey, and also comes in the context of Saudi Arabia’s outreach to Baghdad, which indicates a willingness to soften its rhetoric on Iran.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry appeared outraged just hours after the call, with a statement that was printed in English at Al-Arabiya. “This clearly shows that Qatar’s authority has not yet understood that Saudi Arabia does not have any tolerance to altering truths and breaking of agreements.”
However, Saudi state news had earlier expressed higher hopes. “During the call, the emir of Qatar expressed his desire to sit at the dialogue table and discuss the demands of four countries to ensure the interests of all.” The four countries are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain.
Abdulraham al-Rashed, at Al-Arabiya, wrote that Qatar is trying to find a way out of the three-month blockade.
“The world now lives in less chaos without Qatar, but Qatar seems unable to adapt to the new circumstances. It wants to force the four countries to lift the boycott, running from one platform to another, from one organization to another, from one mediator to another.”
According to Qatar’s media, it was US President Donald Trump who helped coordinate the conversation. This came after Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s trip to Washington on Thursday.
The Qatari media say that Sheikh Tamim “stressed the need to resolve the crises” and to “ensure the unity and stability” of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Trump’s role seems key here. He also called the UAE’s Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed to thank him for $10 million in UAE support sent to help Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
Qatar seems to have oneupped the UAE with a $30m.
donation announced on the same day. Both the UAE and Qatar have also been spending heavily on cultivating friends in Washington. According to Egypt Today, the Qataris have spent “up to $3m.” since June and employed several firms in the US to help their image.
The crisis has dragged on for three months because neither side wants to lose face. This has happened before. In March 2014 the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha amid a GCC dispute. The countries accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and “interfering in the internal affairs of states,” according to UAE’s The National.
However in November 2014, the ambassadors quietly went back and the GCC had a summit in Doha. Same crisis, same issues, same mediator (Kuwait).
Today things are a bit different.
Trump is in office and it was his comments to the Arab American Islamic Summit in May in Saudi Arabia that helped give wind to Riyadh to break with Qatar.
But the UAE and Saudis weren’t willing to go all the way and try to create regime change. Turkey sent troops to defend Qatar, and despite an air blockade, Qatar found ways to weather the storm. Trump initially leaned on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to patch things up. That didn’t work, but the Americans signaled they would stick by relations with Qatar, holding a joint paratroop exercise in Qatar that was even deemed a “friendship jump.” Tillerson has been noticeably quiet in the last two weeks and the US administration is juggling a major crisis with North Korea. But Trump is still investing effort in the Gulf.
For Jerusalem, a resolution of the Gulf crisis and Qatar being welcomed back into the fold would bode ill for warnings against Iran’s increasing power.
This is because Qatar has been accused of being a conduit for Iranian influence as well as support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned Al Jazeera from an event on Thursday, and there have been attempts to revoke press accreditation of an Al Jazeera journalist, in line with similar actions in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. If Qatar patches things up with Saudi Arabia that would appear to weaken Israel’s view that the Gulf is growing closer to its own regional outlook.
This is especially true if Qatar doesn’t bend to Saudi demands. It would also leave out in the cold commentators who welcomed the blockade of Qatar and accused it of supporting terrorism. If it patches things up with Riyadh and doesn’t verbally condemn groups like Hamas, those who supported Saudi Arabia and the UAE and excoriated Doha, will feel pressured to scale down their accusations.