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The blockade of Qatar may have more to do with Palestine than we think

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and Defense Minister in Israel [File photo]
Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and Defence Minister in Israel [File photo]

Israeli officials must have been tripping over each other in their rush to endorse the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar. “The Sunni Arab countries, apart from Qatar, are largely in the same boat with us since we all see a nuclear Iran as the number one threat against all of us,” said Israel’s former defence minister Moshe Ya’alon. The blockade represented a “new line drawn in the Middle Eastern sand,” tweeted US-born former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, while revelling in the regional turmoil. “No longer [is it] Israel against Arabs but Israel and Arabs against Qatar-financed terror,” he added.

Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman described the crises as an opportunity for Israel and “certain” Gulf states. “It is clear to everyone, even in the Arab countries, that the real danger to the entire region is terrorism,” he insisted. The extreme right-winger added that the Saudi-led bloc had cut ties with Qatar “not because of Israel, not because of the Jews, not because of Zionism,” but “rather from fears of terrorism.”

Rejoicing over the punishment of a country which Israeli officials describe as a “pain in the ass” raises all sorts of questions, not least the connection between the siege imposed on Qatar and US legislation introduced by Republican Congressman Brian Mast to impose sanctions with respect to foreign support for “Palestinian terrorism”, and other purposes.

Introducing the bipartisan Bill (H.R. 2712 Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2017) Representative Joshua Gottheimer said, “I’m proud to lead on this effort to weaken Hamas, a heinous terrorist network responsible for the death of far too many innocent civilians, both Israeli and American”. According to him, “Our bipartisan bill will ensure that anyone who provides assistance to this enemy of the United States and our vital ally Israel will face the strength and determination of our country.”

In their findings, the sponsors mentioned that Hamas had received significant financial and military support from Qatar. The sponsors cited the press conference at the Sheraton Doha in Qatar, where Hamas launched its new Document of General Principles and Policies, dubbed the movement’s new charter. “While this document was meant to convey a more moderate face to the world by referencing the 1967 borders,” the bill alleges that the “Hamas’ document, [which] neither abrogates nor replaces the founding charter… still calls for a continuation of terrorism to destroy Israel.”

The bill, which sets out to authorise sanctions on any foreign entity or government that provides support to Hamas, goes on to say that, “It shall be the policy of the United States to prevent Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), or any affiliate or successor thereof from accessing its international support networks.”

While noting the implications of the legislation, it is worth remembering that most of the proposals in this new bill are actually redundant, except for the section on Qatar. As the Arab Centre Washington DC – a research organisation furthering political, economic and social understanding between Arabs and the US — points out, the proposed law introduces sanctions already covered under existing legislation. Hamas and the PIJ are both designated as Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities (SDGTs) by the US State and Treasury Departments respectively. With that in mind, it is already illegal for US entities or institutions to support such groups. Thus, the sanctions proposed in this bill that pertain to US jurisdiction are superfluous.

Furthermore, the Arab Centre points out, formally targeting Iran is also unnecessary because Tehran has already been declared a state sponsor of terror by the State Department and prohibitions against arms export, financial and technical services and US aid to Iran are already in place. This only leaves Qatar, which would be the only new target under this legislation. The stealthy manner of the attack on Qatar did not hide the true intention of supporters of the Bill. “I am proud” said Gottheimer, “to support the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act that will make countries like Qatar pay a price for their support for terrorism. In the fight against terrorists there is no middle ground. If you support terrorism, justice will eventually be served.”

So what has that got to do with Israel? While Israel has been unable to join the Saudi-led move to impose a blockade on Qatar directly, it hasn’t stopped it from taking part in substantial lobbying behind the scenes, with the UAE, to get what in reality is an anti-Qatar piece of legislation passed and carry out the necessary groundwork for a blockade of this magnitude.

It is alleged that the bill’s sponsors in the House include a number of lawmakers who have received substantial donations from pro-Israeli lobbyists as well as from those advocating on behalf of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it is reported that ten US legislators sponsoring the anti-Qatar Bill have received more than $1m over the last 18 months from lobbyists and groups linked to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Author and commentator Trita Parsi believes that the similarities between the US-allied Arab nations’ “terror list” and the H.R. 2712 bill show growing cooperation between Gulf Arab states and Israel. “The coordination between hawkish pro-Israel groups and the UAE and Saudi Arabia has been going on for quite some time,” Parsi told Al-Jazeera. What is new, he continued, is seeing pro-Israel groups such as the Foundation for Defence of Democracies “coming out with pro-Saudi [articles] and lobbying for them [the Saudis] on Capitol Hill.”

The cultivation of a political narrative to support the siege was also reported earlier this month by The Intercept. It said that emails released by a group called “Global Leaks” had shown that the UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al-Otaiba, and the foundation — a pro-Israel neoconservative think tank — have been working together on demonising Qatar. The emails obtained by The Intercept show FDD and UAE collaboration with journalists who published articles accusing Qatar and Kuwait of supporting “terrorism”.

It is no surprise then that the main reason given for this blockade makes little sense. For Saudi Arabia and the UAE to accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism is like the pot calling the kettle black. If there was any substance to the allegation, then the US would not have endorsed a recent arms deal with Qatar and nor would Washington maintain a major military base there. The stated reasons for the blockade have no merit whatsoever. Moreover, the blockade of Qatar cannot be examined in isolation from efforts that have been underway in the US to suppress Palestinian resistance in the name of fighting terrorism. Neither Qatar nor any of the Gulf countries benefit from this standoff whatsoever; for the main beneficiary, we must look to Israel.

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