Kuwaiti reports say Saudi Arabia and Qatar on road to reconciliation

Kuwait has long been neutral in the confrontation in the Gulf. Riyadh led a group of states, including the UAE and Egypt to break relations with Qatar.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (photo credit: NEEDPIX.COM)
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
(photo credit: NEEDPIX.COM)
In a major developing story in the region the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to be nearing a deal that could put the Gulf crisis of 2017 behind them. The report circulating in Kuwait and then later throughout the region’s media says that Saudi Arabia is set to reopen its airspace and borders to Qatar, according to Kuwait’s foreign minister. 
Al Arabiya reprinted the story, which is an indication that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has signed off. It notes that according to the Kuwaiti report “both land and sea borders will reopen as of Monday night, according to a statement made by Kuwait's foreign minister in televised comment.” Kuwait has long been neutral in the confrontation in the Gulf. Riyadh led a group of states, including the UAE and Egypt to break relations with Qatar. 
The crisis is complex and multi-layered. Turkey sent troops to Qatar during 2017 when rumors of an invasion were common place. Qatar is close to Turkey and Turkey backs Hamas. Qatar has paid salaries in Hamas-run Gaza. Both Turkey and Qatar have been close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran also backs Hamas and enjoys amicable relations with Qatar. Qatar is also seeking to be a strategic partner of the US and hosts a US base. This makes everything very complicated in Qatar. From Riyadh’s point off view Qatar was backing extremists and also elements hostile to the rulers in Riyadh. The UAE also accused Qatar of backing extremists.
Recently the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel. Turkey bashed the normalization. Qatar has appeared to be more amicable to Israel, with stories about how it not only sends cash via Israel to Gaza but has spoken frequently with Israeli officials. Qatar and Israel once enjoyed better relations. The Emirate hosted Hamas but has also sought to lobby right leaning pro-Israel voices in the US in an attempt work with the Trump administration. Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner pushed for reconciliation.  
Last month I spoke to Rabbi Marc Schneier, an adviser to leaders in the Gulf, who said he believed there will be more peace deals. “For 12 years I’ve been working on this,” he said. “As someone who paved the way, I see this as two down and four to go in the Gulf. I won’t be content until I see Qataris, Saudis, Omanis and Kuwaitis join as well. Then you will see a transformation.” 
He added on Monday, “the reunification of the GCC will only accelerate the process of normalization between the remaining Gulf states and Israel. With a reunited GCC and the momentum on the side of Gulf-Israel normalization, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait will follow the lead of the UAE and Bahrain.”
In Riyadh media reported on the reconciliation. "Based on (Kuwait's ruler Emir) Sheikh Nawaf's proposal, it was agreed to open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar, starting from this evening," said Kuwait’s foreign minister on state TV. The reopening of the borders come on the eve of the 41st GCC Summit set to be held in Saudi Arabia's AlUla city, Al-Arabiya says.
This is a big deal and it remains to be seen if the Emir of Qatar will arrive at the summit. Yesterday reports indicated he will not. Now it seems he will. But that may change now. Many questions remain about whether this is just a confidence building step, to see what comes next. Riyadh has wanted Qatar to stop some of its critical programming and backing extremists in media in Doha. There are other proxy conflicts as well in Libya and even competition over the government of Tunisia. In many ways the Gulf crisis was a crisis across the region and the world, and also among Muslim communities and countries. During the crises Saudi Arabia competed for hearts and minds from Pakistan to Malaysia. Turkey has also used the crisis to stoke tensions in the Mediterranean and throughout the region.
It is unclear now if the confidence building measures will result in more peace deals and normalization with Israel, and tone down the rhetoric in the region, or if it could also mean that some conflicts will heat up. It is ten years since the Arab spring and there are many lessons to be learned.
This region is full of rumor mongering and all sorts of stories that are used to manipulate media. Kuwait is a frequent conduit for information and leaks by regional countries to push their agendas. For instance rumors about whether the Emir of Qatar would or would not go the Gulf Cooperation Council summit was part of this. Media in the Gulf is pushing this GCC summit as one about “unity.” However media such as Al-Ain continue to push stories claiming Qatar is behind various nefarious things in the region, such as sending drones to the Houthis, claims that lack evidence.
If this reconciliation continues and the countries work more closely it will appear a win for the Trump administration. However, the same administration was critiqued for fueling the crisis in the first place and being overly close to Riyadh and Cairo. Washington pushed the recent peace deals. It is unclear if this reconciliation will make the deals stronger or lead to more critique of Israel. Qatar’s ally in Ankara is hostile to Israel, but it has relations with Israel. Iran, which waylaid a South Korean tanker today is also working with Qatar on some issues. Iran is hostile to Israel and has been stoking tensions with the US. The next US administration will want to reduce the tension with Iran. But Iran says it is increasing uranium enrichment to blackmail the US and the West into giving it what it wants.
There are now questions about what this means for warmer relations between Israel, Oman, Saudi Arabia and even Qatar.