Thursday, October 24, 2013
The Saudi-USA rift and its implications on the Palestinians
The growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration reached the level of an open breach that will have vast repercussions across the Middle East and will also engulf the Palestinian problem.
The tensions between the two brewed up since Obama was elected president and revealed his intensions to reconcile with the Moslem Brothers and announced his plans to close Guantanamo down. This policy alarmed the Saudis because of two aspects: the Moslem Brothers are their enemies and releasing al-Qaeda terrorists exposed the House of Saud to physical dangers.
The deposition of Mubarak on the one hand and sticking to Mursi on the other escalated the tensions but the crisis over Syria and the dialogue with Iran brought the former allies to the brink of cut-off. The Saudis did not understand the fiasco over the chemical weapons in Syria as a "mistake" or "weakness" but as a studied policy on the part of the USA to shift to alliance with Iran instead of the Gulf Arabs. It seemed in Riyadh as a natural continuation of the USA attempt to prevent Saudi Arabia of sending rescue forces to Bahrain to shield the Arab regime of falling to Shiite opposition. Saudi top officials are talking in terms that the USA is a subversive power in the Gulf. As far as they are concerned the USA is reaching out to their worst enemies: Iran and Moslem Brothers and it is ready to abandon them.
Earlier this week the Saudis summoned in Jeddah an initial consultation on the new situation with Gulf Emirates and Jordan. The Jordanian aspect deserves a separate analysis that we shall do in due time. As far as the Palestinians are concerned we have learned that during the pilgrimage season last week Saudi officials told Palestinian seniors that after Saudi Arabia decided to break relations with the USA they expect the Palestinians at least to "distance" themselves from the USA. What does it mean in practical terms? We have to wait and see. A bad token for the future came in the justification of the Saudi decision to avoid joining the UN Security Council membership. They blamed UN Security Council in failing its duties regarding Syria and Palestine. This may herald radicalization of Saudi stance towards the peace process with Israel and we may hear Saudi positions criticizing Palestinian "concessions" etc. it will come not as a result of Saudi conviction that this is the case but rather in order to spoil USA efforts to advance the peace process.
A first indication to this direction came from Qatar. Earlier this week Qatar announced that that they write off Palestinian Authority debt of $150 million. Until now Qatar paid only to Hamas in Gaza and ignored the needs of Ramallah. Saudi Arabia uses to pay Ramallah $200 million monthly. The reason – in the Palestinian divide Moslem Brothers Qatar aligned with Gaza while anti-Moslem Brothers Saudi Arabia aligned with Ramallah. But in the Saudi-USA divide – Qatar does not belong to the Gulf and Saudi camp—but the USA. Hence, expecting a Saudi possible freeze on aid to the Palestinian Authority Kerry asked his Qatari allies to signal to the Saudis that Qatar can replace the Gulf in encouraging the Palestinians in advancing in the peace process. Our initial analysis however is that indeed the Palestinians will slow down with the USA until they know for certain what might be the real position of Saudi Arabia on the matter.
The Qatari shift in favor of Ramallah is not only a result of Kerry's request to substitute the Gulf and Saudi Arabia in aiding the Palestinian Authority but also a shift in Qatar relations with Hamas.
Qatar has invited Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al to settle in Doha in expectation to have Hamas joining "political Islam" – that's to say: to abandon terror and shift to political activity only. At first stage he was obliged to renounce the "muqawama" and turn Hamas to political party. Mash'al himself announced that once Israel withdraws to 1967 lines- he will announce a "hudna"—ceasefire with Israel. But in practical terms nothing has happened and Mash'al himself declared time and again that he is not going to give up "muqawama" and Hamas can join "political Islam" as its military wing…
Qatar cannot accept it and the shift to Ramallah is also a token of displeasure with Hamas.
Sum up: Saudi Arabia gave the Palestinians an initial notice that they expect them to stay on their side in the divide with the USA. We expect the Palestinians to give them a positive answer. This may badly affect the peace process as the Saudis may now express radical positions and the Palestinians may slow down the track with Israel.
Qatar hinted readiness to replace Saudi Arabia in case the Gulf will stop aiding the Palestinian Authority but also expressed displeasure with Hamas of its rejecting Qatar efforts to join "Political Islam".